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E-M:/ Michigan Forests

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


I want to first thank those pursuing this discussion for putting a lot a good
information and discussion out there, particularly Rachel Martin and Dave
Merkel.  I want to comment primarily on Dave's comments.

The information is, as far as I know from a variety of sources, accurate.  The
problem is that this information by itself misses the crucial ecological
issues at work here, and how policies affecting our forests shape those
issues. I know that in the past I posted comments similar to this, so forgive
my rehashing of issues on the assumption that some others may not have heard
these points.

It is irrelevant that Michigan is growing more than it is cutting.  That is
the outcome of horrendous forest practices in the past and an indication that
we are in a recovering forest ecosystem, not that we are somehow free to cut a
lot more wood with impugnity.  What matters is what we want our future forests
to look like, not how much growth exceeds harvest at a single moment in
time.  A choice was made, whether consciously or not, at the turn of the last
century to put Michigan out of the timber business entirely by shaving off the
forests, thus impoverishing the state both biologically and economically. It
is virtually inevitable that the only way to go after such a cataclysmic
destruction of the forest resources of this state that growth will exceed
harvest for generations, until the forests had recovered.

Yes, at the end of this century there is evidence that we are beginning to see
restoration of forests, but it is just the start, and extremely vulnerable to
shortsighted policies currently in place here.  Saying we can cut a whole lot
more assumes that we have made a choice here to keep our forests abnormally
young and to forego restoration of many older, large scale forest ecosystems
in exchange for a shortterm increase in the forest products industry in the
state, or to feed to recreation and development industries, etc.

Also, much of the increased acreage (1.1 million acres) is in the southern
lower peninsula, where abandoned farmlands are growing trees, so they now are
counted as woodlands in areas which are much more likely to turn into
subdivisions than into commercial forest lands.  The 300 acres of old farm
fields behind my house is growing trees like mad now, but that land is not
going to be available for timber products because it is slated for
development, but it is counted in the inventory.  That is the equivalent to
saying you and I both have bank accounts, your's has $20,000 in it, mine has
$10 in it, so it is okay for me to spend up to $10,000 because that is only
half of what is in the bank, even though almost none of that is mine.
Availability of timber products is being assessed now by Forest Service
researchers, but it is clearly wrong for the wood products industry and
agencies to say we have a surplus of timber available to be cut, because the
information doesn't exist, and it is premised on assuming we have chosen a
future direction for Michigan's forests which the people of this state have
barely even been consulted about. 

Regarding the ownerships, I appreciate those figures being offered up.  I do
get concerned about folks who offer up what sounds like unlimited cutting on
private lands as an alternative to cutting on public lands.  The ownership
patterns in Michigan make it virtually impossible to protect and restore
native forest ecosystems by depending solely on public lands. Michigan's
public forests were acquired primarily through tax reversion of lands
that "nobody wanted" after land clearing for wood production and farming,
followed by devastating wildfires fueled by the destruction of the native
forests. 3/4 of the state forests and over 1/2 of the national forests were
acquired through tax reversion, and much of that was totally trashed. In
some cases restoration efforts caused lingering problems today -- 400 million
trees were planted by the CCC to attempt to stop erosion and produce timber
products in the future, leaving a legacy of monocultural plantations on a huge
scale here.

Even more problematic, our public lands are spread all over the place, in
forties, eighties and 120s that are disconnected, or in large chunks with
individual private holdings in the middle. This drastically influences our
ability to protect and restore functioning ecosystems.  It is impossible to
allow the huge wildfires that historically raged through the jack pine
plains of the central lower peninsula today because ownership patterns have
allowed lots of private houses in these tinder boxes, and people get upset
when their houses and surrounding woods burn down.

In addition, Michigan has no forest practices act to govern timber management
on private lands. Voluntary best management practices for water quality are
all that exist.  Yes, some in the timber industry are training loggers to be
better at their logging practices, but these are generally not aimed at large
scale ecological considerations. Also as more pressure builds to cut more in
Michigan, voluntary standards are increasingly inadequate to address the
abuses of the land.  Ironically, right now the National Forests probably have
the best standards for timber management in Michigan because they are tied to
national standards and legal requirements.  Others may manage their property
relatively well, including some of the largest timber companies, but as we
have seen in too many other states when a change in ownership dictates
different management philosophy, a private woodland can be devastated
virtually over night.  Michigan is extremely vulnerable to that fate because
we have nothing in place to prevent it.

Michigan is way behind much of the nation in sound forest management policies.
The appalling fact that our legislature for the third year in row has mandated
a minimum level of timber marking on our State Forests sets us apart as
particularly shortsighted compared to the rest of the country or world.  What
matters to me is to see restoration of functioning forest ecosystems -- I
think it can be done while we also have a sound forest based economy in much
of the state, which means much more than just "fiber".  But the simple
recitation of statistics totally misses the point that those are what give us
the information to make informed decisions, but are by themselves valueless
bits of info that must be put into the context of what the people of the state

Anne Woiwode

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