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E-M:/ DNR, NRC and Old Growth



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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State Forest Old Growth update: No reprieve for 78,417 acres of oldest 
forests, but promises made to move the permanent designation process ahead

Last Wed. and Thurs. the Natural Resources Commission meeting saw continued 
discussion about the Mackinaw Forest Council and Sierra Club's request for 
an emergency hold on 78,417 acres of old forests on State Forest lands that 
are currently slated for logging.  The Lands Management Committee of the 
NRC heard a presentation by DNR staff in response to the proposed emergency 
hold, the request to open up the process to the public and the request to 
prospectively identify and hold another 5% of the State Forests for 
consideration. 

DNR Acting Forest Management Division Chief Ed Hagan presented the staff 
response to our proposal, with assistance from both Lansing and field FMD 
staff. (NOTE: Sierra Club's responses to these positions follow.)  

First, the agency confirmed that the analysis prepared by Tim Flynn was 
accurate -- the DNR's Operations Inventory database DOES show that there 
are 78,417 acres of forests identified for cutting that are either 
white/red pine stands at least 75 yrs old, other forest stands 90+ years 
old, or northern hardwood stands approximating old growth structure.  The 
agency's analysis pointed out that the acres in the "cut" category of these 
forest types amount to 20% the all the acres of these older stands on State 
Forests, and the 80% are currently in a "no cut" category.  

The agency contended, however, that not all of the types of timber 
management these stands are set for are incompatible with old growth, and 
suggested that only clearcutting would be considered incompatible.  In 
addition the DNR said that they now have 144,000 acres in potential old 
growth, and have directed staff to identify another 200,000 acres as 
potential old growth.  

The staff then provided the first detailed information and maps available 
to the public of the DNR's proposed old growth -- these maps focussing on 
one compartment in the Roscommon Forest Management Unit.  This area was 
chosen because it was the compartment in which Tim Flynn took 
NRCommissioner Jerry Bartnik to see stands slated for cutting. According to 
the staff, all of the stands that are proposed in our list have gone 
through extensive public review and that there is no reason for reopening 
consideration of these for old growth designation.  

In addition, the staff presented information about the DNR's Old Growth
Committee.  A draft final report is now being circulated for sign off to 
the members of the committee, and Ed Hagan committed that within two months 
the document would be available for public review.  In addition, he said 
that the full old growth process, including adoption of criteria and 
designation of old growth areas would be completed at the end of 2 years. 
There was some discussion about whether the old growth policy itself needed 
to be revisited, although there was also significant confusion about what 
was in fact policy, and how it had been adopted.

After the DNR presentation, a small amount of time for response was 
provided to Tim Flynn and me, and later Tim provided more detailed 
information in the full meeting of the NRC.  First, we pointed out that old 
growth and mature white/red pine forests and old growth northern hardwoods 
are considered "Endangered Ecosystems" according to the National Biological 
Service, because they have been reduced by more than 98% of their original 
range.  Because of this, we argued it simply doesn't hold water for the DNR 
to contend that it was not excessive to designate for cutting 18.8% of the 
oldest red/white pine forests, and a whopping 61% of the northern hardwoods 
approaching old growth conditions. 

Also, the "no-cut" designation is NOT the same as protected -- at each 
upcoming compartment review the DNR will convert more of the oldest stands 
the DNR says are in the "no-cut" category to "cut" based on their current 
practices and their disinclination to put a hold on cutting these stands.  
The DNR's figures did not show how much of each of these three categories 
in currently in the "potential old growth" category, but the Roscommon 
figures show only 5% of the oldest stands are in fact in this temporary 
holding category.

The 144,000 acres that are now in the potential old growth revealed some 
troubling information as well, based on an analysis of those stands done by 
Tim Flynn. It has always been understood that the old growth system would 
include more than just old forest stands, and that a landscape level 
approach and protection of all ecosystems is to be emphasized.  
Nonetheless, it is was startling to see that just slightly more than 10% of 
the 144,000 acres currently being held of potential old growth is in the 
"saw-timber" category, ie is made up of larger, older trees.  22% is open 
lands, 58% is pole timber and 10% is sapling size.  While we don't argue 
that these lands may belong in the system, this breakdown makes it obvious 
that the DNR's internally generated potential old growth currently 
drastically underrepresents these rare, oldest forest stands.  

In response to the assertion that public input into the management of these 
stands had occurred, we pointed out that the map handed out that day of the 
Roscommon compartment with the old growth actually drawn in was the first 
such map ever provided to the public.  None of the compartments reviewed 
since the adoption of the 1994 NRC Old Growth Policy has provided 
information to the public about the location or design of the potential old 
growth that staff evidently have designated.  In fact, compartment packets 
for two pending reviews (Shingleton and Pigeon River) which had been sent 
out in the past month again contained at best only passing references to 
the potential old growth that DNR staff have identified.  When we have 
appealed denials of old growth designation, we pointed out, the rationale 
given has included that the DNR has considered old growth already, yet we 
have never seen their designs!

Also, we disputed the contention that it was acceptable to do some timber 
treatments in stands that would later be considered for old growth.  Part 
of the argument made by DNR was that these stands would be set back only 10 
years by the cutting.  In reality, even the lightest timber treatments are 
designed to alter the structure of the forest stands and modify the stands 
from natural conditions.  If there weren't changes occurring, there would 
be no reason to do these treatments!  These changes, and associated effects 
(compaction of soils, loss of coarse woody debris, widespread holes in the 
canopy, and modification of growth in the understory) can dramatically 
alter the livability of a stand currently used by deep woods critters and 
plants.  The fact that we are forced to start with an altered landscape 
because our forebears saved virtually nothing of Michigan's native forests 
is not an excuse to continue to manipulate stands that should instead be 
allowed to recover to full old growth conditions.  

In the course of discussion it became clear that the NRC Committee members 
were actually not even aware that there is a 1994 policy on old growth that 
was adopted by the NRC.  As the Committee terminated discussion on this 
topic because of time, it was clear they recognized that there had not been 
a full discussion or examination of the issues, however they were not 
prepared to recommend the emergency hold that was asked for.  When asked by 
Committee chair Paul Eisle how we responded to the argument that it was 
inappropriate to take this much acreage out of timber production, even 
temporarily, when the legislature has passed a timber mandate, we pointed 
out that at this time it is all the more compelling to take action to 
protect these oldest stands before they are cut.  The timber mandate says 
that the DNR will consider the effect on wildlife, and these oldest stands 
provide an exceeding rare type of habitat that is endangered in Michigan, 
so in fact it is even more important for the NRC to put a hold on cutting 
these areas until the old growth system is designated.

At the full NRC meeting later, during public comments in addition to Tim 
Flynns additional information presentation, three individuals spoke out 
calling for old growth protection, and mention was made of several letters 
received on the topic.  

One speaker, Gerard Grabowski, lives very close to Crystal Mountain, where 
the meeting was held, and discussed what happened on state land near his 
home and bakery business.  He started off mentioning that he had a very 
unusual situation in that a timber sale behind his home had actually been 
named for his bakery (the Brick Oven sale). He didn't object to that sale, 
but had many other concerns about how the DNR handled decisions in his 
area.  9 years ago his township had invited DNR officials to talk with them 
about their management plans for the State Forests in the township. At that 
time the folks were told decisions on management would be made in the year 
2000, and that they would be notified about upcoming decisions.  

In the fall of 1999, Grabowski contacted the DNR forester, and was told 
that the management decisions had ALREADY been made, and it was too late 
for him to comment, despite having not been notified (he also has adopted a 
portion of this forest, but Adopt a Forest volunteers don't receive notices 
of reviews either). Grabowski obtained the decision on management, and was 
stunned.  This area has one of the highest concentrations of nesting 
red-shouldered hawks, a state threatened species, in the state, and yet 
there was no mention whatsoever of this hawk, and that management clearly 
did not take into account at all guidelines for managing nesting habitat 
for this species.  And when the stands were marked this spring it became 
VERY apparent that there was no consideration for this bird.  Likewise, a 
beautiful, old and diverse 200 acre piece with a recreational trail that 
had been set up supposedly to show forest management techniques, but has 
never been used for that, was slated for heavy cutting in spite of the 
trail (which was never mentioned in the review, in either capacity) and 
nesting hawks.  

Grabowski's contacts to the DNR, bolstered by inquiries from Sierra Club as 
well, resulted in some changes to the management of the area, although he 
believed more were warranted.  He questioned why the state would not take 
time to protect the oldest stands and assure that public input into the 
decisions would be much better done, and felt his experience was a clear 
example of what was wrong. 

In addition, Mike Keeler and Sherry Hayden both spoke in favor of 
protecting these oldest stands and getting public input into the process.  
Sherry spoke of a general disregard for anything old, and the importance of 
valuing old forests just as we should value older people.  Mike spoke as a 
cabin owner and user of the forests, who appreciates the importance and 
attraction of older stands, and their rarity.  

Sadly, after rafts of testifiers on issues related to deer hunting permits, 
and dozens of questions rehashing the same issues repeatedly with these 
folks, not a soul on the Commission asked these people any questions about 
their testimony.  The following day at the working session of the NRC, 
Commissioner Eisle accurately and fairly presented the discussion that 
occurred in the committee meeting the day before, noting that there is 
clearly much more information that was needed.  He did say it was clear 
that more information needed to be shared with the public as well about 
what the agency is doing with regard to the old growth process.  However, 
while saying that old growth is an important issue, Chairman Keith Charters 
made it clear that he would prefer that the Lands Management Committee move 
on to other issues, such as recreation, rather than spend much more time on 
this.  

Needless to say, there was no move to act on the request that they protect 
the 78,417 acres that DNR now confirmed is in fact in the "cut" column.  
That means that there will be stands cut this summer that fall into that 
category (some stands may have been cut already because of the lag time in 
posting information to the state's data base).




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