Trees cover more of Michigan's landscape than a decade ago, but the growth may have more to do with quantity than quality.
[I]t's not necessarily towering stands of stately old trees that the word "forest" often conjures. Instead, it's typically early-stage growth of smaller, densely packed trees that fight vigorously with one another for sunlight and space. It will take decades for the slower-growing oaks and maples to take over such fields, providing the airy, shade-dappled forests that exist in many protected parts of the state.
[In Michigan, the] increase is part of a national trend that saw 10 million acres of forest added to the landscape [from 1990 to 2000], said Brad Smith, a U.S. Forest Service expert on the nation's estimated 300 billion trees - about 1,000 for every U.S. resident. "We're continually growing more than we're cutting," Smith said. "People think urban sprawl is eating all the forest - we can't say that."
But counting overgrown fields as forest can give a false sense of progress, said [M.R.], a forest service specialist with the Sierra Club's Michigan chapter.
"Yes, there is more forest, but it's like saying I had three Cadillacs once, and now I have nine Ford Pintos," said [M.R.], who also is caretaker of the 80-acre Saginaw Forest owned by the University of Michigan outside Ann Arbor. "Just because I have more cars than I did before doesn't necessarily mean it's more desirable."
The existence of both types of forest has spawned vigorous debate about how to manage them - whether to clear-cut more areas to provide young forest habitat conducive to hunting and logging, or pursue a more hands-off approach to allow hardwoods to thrive and provide the solitude and majesty found only in stands of towering trees.
Other factors, including better fire suppression, also have led to some increases in forest cover. But that's sometimes a double-edged sword: Oak trees, for example, sprout prodigiously in burned-over land, giving them an advantage over maple trees, which don't.
"We're not lacking for hardwood maple forests," said [M.R.]. "But we are lacking for oak savannahs."
...Michigan forests "are on the verge of recovering the beauty, grandeur and biological diversity which was the norm in Michigan before they were decimated," reads the Sierra Club's Michigan chapter Web site....
Mature forests also provide habitat for species that don't thrive in young forests, said [M.R.], such as moose, pileated woodpecker and the northern goshawk.
Use of the Forest
Public use of Saginaw Forest is encouraged. Rules for the public's use include (but are not limited to):
- No parking in front of the access gate.
- Public use hours are from 6am to 6pm only; no camping on the site!
- No vehicles or bicycles are permitted on the site except those for approved research and teaching use (bike parking available at the main gate).
- Dogs with owners are welcome to visit, but they must be on a leash. (Also see here.)
- Dog owners must carry out all pet waste; please bring your own doggie bag to do so.
- No cutting or collecting of plant material; no hunting or harming vertebrates (this includes no fishing).
- No smoking.
Friday, February 17, 2012
On this date: 2005 news about the return of forests
On this day in 2005, the Detroit Free Press ran a story ("Forests Return; Future Uncertain") about the return of forests in Michigan, and the author interviewed the then-caretaker for the article. Since the article is behind a pay wall, I will only use excerpts from it that are descriptive. As with previous references to caretakers, I will continue to only use initials.