ARE THOSE GUYS?
Article #13, July 1998
By Bill Cook
There’s much talk given to “non-industrial private forest” owners these days. Actually, they have been the focus of discussions for many years. But just who are “they”? The non-industrial, private forest owner (or NIPF owner) is an ownership category for all the folks out there that own a piece of the great Michigan forest … from one acre to thousands of acres. They are the “Moms and Pops” of forest ownership, although some NIPF owners possess a lot of forest and generate quite a bit of revenue. The U.S. Forest Service published a document about private timberland ownership in Michigan. Some of the results are stated here.
The Upper Peninsula has about 55,500 individual NIPF owners. These folks own almost 2.8 million acres of forest. That’s about 34 percent of the entire U.P. timberland resource. Note that “timberland” is defined as forest that is potentially available to harvest. The term excludes parks, federal wilderness areas, and similarly restricted areas. Keweenaw County has the lowest percentage of NIPF ownership and Menominee has the most. Other privately held forest owners include forest industry, non-forest industry corporations, partnerships, clubs, and associations. That acreage comes to about 2.3 million acres. Public lands constitute the remaining 3.3 million acres. Below the bridge, about 57 percent of the forest is NIPF owned, about 5.9 million acres.
Why are these NIPF owners and acres important? Because the demand for wood has made their collective resource increasingly important. Timber prices have been rapidly growing in recent years, making timber harvest more attractive. And, an increasingly larger amount of timber is maturing. Harvest levels on many public lands have flattened or gone down, so the pressure to harvest on private land has increased that much more. Future trends suggest an even greater demand on NIPF lands. Unfortunately, many owners are unaware of timber values and good forest management systems. Less than 20 percent of private owners seek forest management advice. So, what’s a forest owner to do? Harvest now with limited information? Or, just withdraw the forest altogether in the hopes that nature knows best? Neither option is recommended. For a long time, the forestry community has grappled with how to provide management assistance to the NIPF owner.
Who are these U.P. owners? The category “individual owners” means regular people like you and me. Most of us have owned our piece of the forest less than 25 years and keep it for recreational reasons or as part of our home or farm. On average, we own 51 acres, more in western U.P. than the eastern U.P. The average in the Lower Peninsula is 21 acres. Forty-three percent of us live within a mile of our nearest forest tract. Nearly a third live over 100 miles away. Half of us have had a harvest at one time or another. The other half either outright opposes harvest, believes it would reduce scenic value, or thinks their ownership is too small. Almost half the number of private owners holds only three percent of the acres! The most likely sources of forestry information would come from multiple agencies, some of the most popular being Conservation Districts, consultants, and Michigan State University Extension.
The U.P. has a great surplus of wood, more volume and bigger trees than any time since the logging era. However, Michigan is a net importer of wood products. We have some of the finest timberland, best managers and operators, safest environmental protections, and most extensive knowledge of forest management systems in the world. The U.P. is a good place to practice forest management, surpassing many regions of the world that do not enjoy the advantages we do here.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: email@example.com
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