This weekend I came across a massive collection of pine timber. Eight to ten-foot long logs were stacked up to twenty feet high on either side of a windy dirt road. The piles stretched for nearly a quarter mile. So much timber. The rich aroma of the freshly cut pine filled the air. It appeared as if an entire forest was harvested.
I fully understand why any one coming across this sheer volume of cut timber would fear for the status of our trees. I decided to do a bit of digging to learn about the health of Northern Michigan’s forests.
After a quick Google search, I located the Michigan Sustainable Forestry Initiative (sfimi.org), an independent, nonprofit organization that works with conservation groups, communities, landowners and forestry businesses. On their front page they state that not only is Michigan not in danger of running out of trees and forestlands, but that the forest volume in the state is growing substantially. We are growing more trees each year than are harvested and lost to fire, insects, and disease. If trees stopped growing today and we continued harvesting at our current rate, our supply would last over 75 years.
According to the State of Michigan, Michigan has more forest land than any other state in the Northeast or Midwest and 10th nationally. Forest lands accounts for 53% of all land in Michigan. A Michigan State University study values Michigan’s forest products industry at over $17.8 billion annually. The USDA Forest Service reports that Michigan’s forest volume has increased by 35% since 1980.
Yet not all is well with our forests. Pests and diseases like the emerald ash borer, beech bark disease and oak wilt are killing thousands of acres of trees, putting entire species at risk. The Michigan DNR, Michigan Sustainable Forestry Initiative, USDA Forest Service, and the timber industry is working together to isolate and eliminate invasive species threatening the state’s forest.
Most importantly, lumber companies carefully manage their forests, to ensure not only the health of the timber, but also of the native fauna. Forests are only clear-cut in the case of fire or disease. Otherwise lumbermen cut only a selection of fully matured trees (twenty-five to thirty-five years old), which are replaced with seedlings. This selective cutting allows for younger trees to mature and ensures that the forest contains a healthy variety of trees of all ages and sizes.