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E-M:/ State Forest issues



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Folks:

I want to commend Murray Dailey for a very thoughtful piece about the state of
Michigan's forests.  A lot of what he said is right on the money, and the
money is what drives the system.  

Dave Smethurst raised concerns about several of Murray's points, and I want to
respond to several of those comments.  First, there are a lot of fine people
in the DNR, but that doesn't mean there aren't fundamental philosophical
differences at work about how to manage our woods.  To paraphrase a great
quote, they are some of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of
disagreeing with.  But disagree I do.

I won't repeat what Murray said, but much of it is very accurate about the
processes at work in managing Michigan's forests.  Some of this is due to the
belief within the DNR that timber products must be emphasized, a belief fed by
a Legislature that has been willing to endorse a mandated timber marking level
the last two years, and an administration that cuts staffing levels even when
the income from timber cutting is well above the expense of running the
forests well.  The message is loud and clear, and according to folks on the
ground in the forests they understand exactly that their Job #1 is getting the
cut out - both Wildlife Division and Forest Management Division understand
that.  That doesn't mean they like it, but it does mean that understanding is
at the heart of decisions, even when the professionals disagree with that
mandate.

Dave talks about his experience in the Pigeon River Country and is very
positive about the interactions with the FMD in that area.  That is because
PRC is unique -- an advisory committee has provided guidance for the
management of these lands for twenty + years -- no other State Forest land in
Michigan has such a level of public input.  Things have improved some
because of public pressure, and in many ways it appears things are likely to
improve in the future. But much of what any thinking person would expect to be
standard practice in managing our State Forests is still not there.  It would
be a mistake to assume, based on the experience of the PRC, that all is
copacetic throughout the system.

On the aspen issue, I know that there are different points of view, but let me
just point out a couple of important facts.  One, the percentage of aspen
across the forests of Michigan is still close to 10 times the amount present
in the native forest ecosystems of this state.  Two, aspen was known to the
Ojibway as "the mother of pine" because it was the nursery from which our
white and red pine and northern hardwoods forests sprung - we don't "lose"
aspen, we "gain" critically lacking forest diversity.  Three, I don't have a
problem with aspen, I have a problem with those who think we should emphasize
aspen regeneration at the expense of all other forest types.  We created the
appetite for aspen in this state, both by creating a demand for the "fiber"
the wood provides (cheap, easy to grow, fewer loggers needed, etc.) and by
overemphasizing the edge species that use aspen, such as deer.  With too many
deer in this state still today, it is hard to believe we still see people
concerned about wildlife complaining that we aren't cutting enough aspen. If
the species cited, such as ruffed grouse, were solely dependent on aspen
regeneration for their health, then these critters should be thriving. 
Chances are it is not the quantity of aspen that is the problem, it is the
quality of the habitat, and simply clearcutting more aspen will not solve that
problem.

I do not look out west to get guidance for the issues in Michigan.  I do try
to look very critically at what we have been doing here, and find that we are
a very long way from doing what is right by our forests, particularly our
State Forests.  We are at a crossroads with regard to Michigan's forests, and
there is more good information about biodiversity, forest health,
demographics, and all the other demands on our forests than ever before.  But
we are a long way from using that information adequately to further the ends
of future generations, choosing instead to continue to work on models and
assumptions created in the heyday of the early conservation movement.  There
is movement in the right direction -- but until the changes are showing up on
the ground everywhere in Michigan, then the kinds of criticisms and concerns
Murray raised are very, very valid.  

Anne Woiwode



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