Article #62, August, 2002
By Bill Cook
Timber harvest, or tree cutting, has become an increasingly controversial practice. Studies show that most people like trees, but their disconnect from raw material extraction results in a wide variety of misconceptions about forests and forest ecology. Philosophical attitudes towards forests have also evolved over the last few decades to a more anti-utilitarian perspective. These trends are likely to continue.
Wood is one of many natural resources that society is built upon. Using less wood might be a good conservation as long as substitutes aren’t used. Wood is the most environmentally friendly raw material there is. Using anything else will increase negative environmental consequences.
A minority of folks believe that harvesting any tree is a bad thing. Trying to change that opinion is usually futile. As a result, these people have little to contribute to productive discussions about how much and where forests should be harvested and managed.
Most people can accept the fact that we need to harvest timber. At this point, the question evolves into “can we do this without wrecking the environment?” The answer is “yes”, of course. The other question is often “can’t the harvest be somewhere else?” This is called the “not in my back yard” or “NIMBY” syndrome. It may not be very ethical, but it is rather common.
A higher quality lifestyle is only one benefit of wood products. Less obvious are improvements to wildlife habitat, enhanced water quality, forest health, and long-term visual quality. The forest industry also contributes major economic benefits in the form of jobs, taxes, value-added products, etc, especially in the Upper Peninsula.
So, how much timber harvest is enough?
Michigan is growing about twice the volume it harvests. We could easily harvest more without sacrificing other forest values. Michigan ownerships have lower harvest levels than their equivalents in Wisconsin and Minnesota, although comparisons require some caution.
Overall, volumes have been increasing for at least 50 years. More trees continue to age and grow larger. Shade tolerant tree species occupy greater proportions of the forest.
With nearly 10 million residents, Michigan is a net importer of wood. The United States, as a whole, is also a wood importer. Is this good in a land of surplus?
Harvest volumes are not spread equally across the landscape. Some forest types are harvested more heavily than others as large blocks become mature. Some ownerships will harvest at higher or lower levels. Market forces certainly impact harvest decisions by private forest owners. Forest health issues might dictate temporarily high harvests of certain species, such as the impact of jack pine budworm on older jack pine.
How much timber do we actually harvest in Michigan?
While numbers vary, about 4.5 million cords per year is close. Laid side by side, this pile would stretch nearly 3,500 miles! That sounds like a lot, yet the pile of annual growth would run nearly 8,000 miles. Both piles are tiny compared to the standing volume, though, which would run 30,000 miles past the moon!
So, do we harvest too much timber? Before jumping to any conclusions, take some time to investigate the situation and consider your consumership.
The growing and management of forests results in greater outputs of all products, both timber and non-timber, than what nature would produce on its own. The time has long passed where we can afford to ignore the relationship between societal demands and the forest base. Without careful management, the demands could easily erode the base.
Learning about the forest can be a lifelong endeavor, with many rich rewards. A good place to start is with the Michigan Forests Forever website, if you have Internet access. The address is www.dsisd.k12.mi.us/mff. Here in the Upper Peninsula, forests are particularly critical to our well-being and lifestyle.
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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 email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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