Article #46, April 2001
By Bill Cook
Sometimes you just don’t know how important something is until it’s gone, or until you go somewhere that doesn’t have it. Forests are that way.
Recently, I spent two weeks in Holland. It is a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes and history. But Holland doesn’t have much forest.
By contrast, we live in a forest-rich region of the world. With that comes some level of responsibility for the forest and our fellow human beings. We could be producing more wood, recreational opportunities, and other benefits without compromising forest health. Maybe we should. Heaven knows we import just about everything else into the U.P.!
Oddly, the question my new friends most often asked was; “Do you live in a wooden house?” Few people in Holland have wooden houses. Most are made of brick, stone, or concrete.
Forest covers only eight percent of Holland. By comparison, 85 percent of the Upper Peninsula is forested. The U.P. is 20 percent larger than Holland, but we have only 317,000 people. Holland has over 15 million!
In Holland, agencies design “nature” through landscape architecture. It is a fascinating set of sciences, but it is not what we would call natural. Cottonwoods planted in precise rows with grazed understories are considered, by many, to be “nature”. We could teach them about things that are wild.
You can learn a lot by watching the land from the window of an airplane, train, or car.
As I flew over northern Europe and Great Britain, it was obvious that most of the manicured landscape was filled with farms and cities. Most of Europe’s forest, especially northern Europe, was removed centuries ago, first by glaciers, then by humans. There is little pristine acreage remaining.
One weekend, I made a side trip to the famed Ardennes Forest of Belgium. Forest management is intensive, with a lot of harvesting, thinning, and planting. My past studies and work experience in both Germany and Great Britain revealed how Europeans extract everything they can out of a limited forest resource while maintaining delightfully pleasant landscapes.
With our abundance, some of the forest management issues we wrangle about in the U.P. seem moot when compared to the northern European situation. Almost silly. We’re a long way from producing the volume and variety of outputs per acre that the European forests do.
But the USA is a young and sprawling country that still has wild places like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It feels really good to live here and raise a family. However, we should probably think about the future and take some lessons from our cousins in Europe who are more experienced with the interface between forests and people.
I would argue that we should be working much harder to increase productivity on more acres. Planning today, for a greatly increased demand tomorrow, will be easier than postponing the inevitable. Foresight will likely pay off in a big way.
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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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