Article #86, August, 2004
By Bill Cook
outdoor education have provided an entire generation with some awareness of
forests and other ecosystems. Schools, public agencies, and nature centers have
offered a smorgasbord of educational programming. As a result, our mostly urban
and suburban human population has been partially reconnected with natural resources.
A very low percentage
of people continue to work on the land, a dramatic shift in demographics from
100 years ago. The subsequent void of wildland familiarity has been filled with
many messages from a divergent assembly dedicated to environmental education.
Most organizations have done a good job of raising awareness levels among our
uprooted society. Many of the messages focus on preservation of threatened resources
or a species group, identification of one thing or another, and on recreational
activities. These are good objectives, but they are not enough.
a logical progression from nature awareness to the essentials of natural resource
management. Unfortunately, popular outdoor recreation and ecotourism have placed
an unbalanced premium on the pretty, the cute, and the entertaining, which is
usually a far cry from the ecologically stable or sustainable. As a result,
some environmental programming may have contributed to an anti-management perspective.
we forget that all of our material goods come from the Earth. Everything! Resource
management is the key to maintaining an essential supply of raw materials. The
techniques and practices for conservation and use of our natural resources are
excellent environmental education topics (and great professions, too!). More
specifically, forestry encompasses the science through which forest ownerships
can be managed for a brighter future. For family forests, forestry can yield
a lifetime of satisfaction.
education needs to teach more than merely an appreciation of forests and natural
beauty. More people must understand that effectively managed forests better
provide benefits that we all rely upon. Professional environmental education
societies have adopted these themes but much more work needs to be done.
of forest management is not the sole responsibility of schools, public agencies,
and nature centers. Those of us who own forests could use an owner's manual.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, half the forest land is owned by individuals. This
is a tremendous resource that benefits us all.
Many people believe
that if forests are left alone, they will flourish. This is not necessarily
the case for many reasons. Most forests come with a history of human disturbance
that requires human nurturing. Invasive species, both native and exotic, have
become an increasingly important forest health issue. Additionally, desirable
forest qualities can be increased through the application of ecological concepts,
or in other words, forestry. A forest left to itself through benign neglect
will seldom proceed towards a successful future. That is a message worthy of
environmental education curricula. The methods to reach these goals are fascinating.
Without a doubt,
forest resources are increasingly threatened which, in turn, compromises the
future of our children and grandchildren. Most of these threats have a human
component that environmental education can address more often. The following
trends incorporate most of our forest health challenges.
1. Urban splatter. As more people buy their
little piece of heaven in the northwoods, the forest landscape becomes fragmented
and ownership increasingly parcelized. Lakeshore and river property is particularly
popular and especially vulnerable.
2. Invasive species. Insects and diseases have
already taken a huge toll in the decline of American elm, oaks, white pine,
butternut, and beech. On the ground, garlic mustard, Pennsylvania sedge, and
buckthorn make forest regeneration all but impossible. More damaging agents
loom on the horizon.
3. High deer densities. While deer population
levels are the subject of intense and emotional debate, the fact that many areas
of the northern forest have been severely damaged by deer browsing has been
obvious for many years. Intense deer pressure has resulted in the loss of forest
regeneration for decades in some areas. Browse preferences often encourage the
harmful spread of invasive plants, further precluding tree regeneration. Trees
are not the only victims of over browsing. Many understory plants, including
endangered species, have lost ground. People need to expand their traditional
views of deer to include the fact that they can inflict long-term damage to
These three challenges
are certainly related in many ways. Fore example, the introduction and spread
of damaging species can often be traced to people moving into the woods. Control
of damaging species is greatly inhibited by multiple ownerships, especially
recreational properties. In jack pine areas, threat of wildfire increases and
control is more difficult. Many forest owners like to feed deer, contributing
to browse damage in areas already too dense with deer.
Most forest health
threats cannot be countered by legislation or regulation, nor should they be.
Public funding can often help address specific issues, but the real key is environmental
education and increased levels of forest stewardship. Seek learning. For starters,
try www.dsisd.k12.mi.us/mff. Advocating sound forest management is one of the
environmentally friendly ways to actively promote a sustainable future. It's
also a lot of fun!
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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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