TOP TEN ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS of
Article #83, May, 2004
By Bill Cook
Too many times, forestry and logging are portrayed as environmentally destructive. However, numerous studies show just the opposite to be true, despite the occasional poor example. Over the last 75 years, forest management has nurtured a nearly miraculous recovery of our nation’s forests, including the abundant and productive forests of Michigan.
Sometimes, we forget our history and fail to understand how much our forests have recovered and improved. Other times, we fail to appreciate how forest management has changed and adapted to new conditions and new information. Too often, some people measure environmental health by visual quality.
The following list of “Top Ten Environmental Benefits of Forestry” has been adapted from a recent compilation from the Society of American Foresters.
1. Forestry continues to bring back forests. Until the 1920s, forests were often logged and abandoned. Now, across the country an average of 1.7 billion seedlings are planted annually with billions more regenerated naturally. In Michigan, we plant about 30 million tree seedlings each year.
2. Forestry improves water quality. Foresters carefully manage areas called watersheds and riparian zones (land bordering rivers, streams, and lakes). Water quality is a prime concern. Forests actually help to clean water. The trees, the soil, and bacteria are all part of this process. More than 80 percent of our nation's total precipitation falls on private lands and 70 percent of eastern watersheds are privately owned.
3. Forestry offsets air pollution. Foresters nurture forests. One mature tree absorbs approximately 13 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. For every ton of wood a forest grows, it removes 1.47 tons of carbon dioxide and replaces it with 1.07 tons of oxygen.
4. Forestry can reduce catastrophic wildfires. At the turn of the century, wildfires burned across 20 to 50 million acres each year in the USA. Through education, prevention, and control, the area has been limited to about two to five million acres a year--a reduction of 90%. By removing excess fuels, such as underbrush and some trees, foresters can modify forests to make them more resilient to fire.
5. Forestry helps many species of wildlife. Foresters employ a variety of management techniques to enhance habitat, especially for endangered species. Thinning and harvesting stimulate the growth of food sources. Openings created by harvesting benefit a variety of species. Management can more quickly grow large trees needed for cavity nesters.
6. Forestry builds great places to recreate. Managed forests often produce the kinds of forests and forest conditions preferred by recreationalists. Forests are important for activities such as bird watching, hiking, photography, skiing, snowmobiling, hunting, and camping.
7. Forestry benefits residential environments. Foresters manage forests and trees to benefit communities in many ways. Forests in urban areas reduce storm water runoffs, improve air quality, and reduce energy consumption. For example, three well-placed mature trees around a house can cut air-conditioning costs by 10-50 percent.
8. Forestry provides renewable and energy-friendly building products. Foresters manage forests for timber, a natural resource that grows back. Other building materials, such as steel, plastic, and concrete, might be reused and recycled but cannot be replaced. Wood is renewable and can be produced for future generations on a sustainable basis. Recycling and processing wood also requires much less energy than the processing of non-renewable materials.
9. Forestry helps family forests remain intact. Foresters assist family forestland owners, who own 54 percent of all the forests in the USA and 46 percent of Michigan’s forest. Owners learn to understand the benefits of managing their forests in an environmentally friendly manner.
10. Forestry is good for soils. Foresters' success in growing forests and producing forest products is dependent on their ability to match tree species with soils and to prescribe activities that not only promote forest growth but also enhance and protect soil productivity and prevent soil erosion.
If you own forested property consider how you are managing the resource. Contact a forester for professional advice. That forest might be more than what you think.
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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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Last update of this page was 22 September, 2005
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