Feature Article



Michigan & Wisconsin State Forests

Conservation was not a popular idea on the Great Lakes and northern Wisconsin frontier.  Early settlers recognized the monetary values of our forest for jobs, lumber, agricultural land, and as part of the tax base.  Forestry Conservation was an idea that they thought threatened all of these things. There were some forward-thinking people who did try to make changes.  They are often described as being ahead of their time.

One of these people was Increase Lapham (pronounced La-fum).  He wrote a report back in 1867 entitled “The Disastrous Effects of the Destruction of Forest Trees now Going on So Rapidly in the State of Wisconsin” as part of the Special Commission on Forestry.  The commission reported that warmer summers, cooler winters, flooding, soil erosion, and lower water levels would be the result of the rapid deforestation of the times.  Despite these warnings, the destruction of Wisconsin’s forests continued.

The desire to protect and conserve natural resources and landscapes led many states to begin setting aside land for state parks in the late nineteenth century. In Wisconsin, the creation of a state park required legislative action. The legislature had approved the establishment of Wisconsin's first state park in 1878, a 760-square mile park in northern Wisconsin called "The State Park.”

In 1903, the WI State Forestry Commission was established.  It was replaced by the State Board of Forestry in 1905.  A man by the name of Edward M. Griffeth became Wisconsin’s first state forester.  He established several forest reserves in the state and started the ball rolling for Wisconsin forestry.

The First WI State Park Board was appointed in 1909 to investigate and make recommendations for the development of a state park system. Noted landscape architect John Nolen was hired to draft the plan. His report, published by the State Park Board, provided guidelines and recommended four sites for inclusion in Wisconsin's first state park system.

Today there are 13 Wisconsin State Forests managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources's Division of Forestry. They are managed for outdoor recreation, watershed and habitat preservation, and sustainable forestry. The various units total 471,329 acres, although many contain extensive private inholdings. Wisconsin's state forests are often co-listed with Wisconsin's state park system, which is maintained by the Division of Parks and Recreation. Wisconsin currently has 66 state park units, covering more than 60,570 acres in state parks and state recreation areas. Each unit was created by an act of the Wisconsin Legislature and is maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation.

Michigan also has a colorful forest history, similar to that of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The forests are ever-changing from the effects of climate, nature, and the influences of human beings. In 1887, the State of Michigan established a Forestry Commission to preserve, protect, and restore Michigan's forests. The Commission was later dissolved.

The MI State Forestry Commission was reestablished by law in 1899. Public officials began to recognize that some land should be retained in public ownership. Logged over lands were considered worthless to their owners. Many acres reverted to State ownership. Farmers and settlers who tried to make the northern sandy soil lands productive for agriculture were largely unsuccessful and most farms failed. Forest fires devastated thousands of acres.

Around 1900, many people in Michigan and across the United States began to understand that forest resources were not going to last forever. In 1902, Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) established a Forestry curriculum for education, training, and research. The University of Michigan (1902) and Michigan Technological University (1936) established programs as well.

In 1903, 34,000 tax reverted acres in Roscommon and Crawford counties were set aside for forestry purposes, and were dedicated as the Higgins Lake, and Houghton Lake State Forests. Reforestation by the planting of nursery stock was begun in 1904, with the first stock coming from commercial dealers. Professor Filibert Roth was appointed Forest Warden in September 1903. He was authorized to negotiate for additional lands, to give free permits for wild hay, to dispose of dead and down timber (valued under $10 and for domestic use) and to employ forest rangers.

In 1907 Governor Fred M. Warner appointed a special Commission of Inquiry on Tax Lands and Forestry. Among other things the Commission recommended a reorganization of state government agencies related to forests and forestry. One of their first actions was to hire Mr. Marcus Schaaf as State Forester. Additional Forest Reserves opened under Mr. Schaafs leadership include Fife Lake and Lake Superior in 1913, Ogemaw in 1914, Presque Isle in 1915, and Alpena in 1916. The State Forest System was underway.By 1916, seven state forests had been designated, including one in the Upper Peninsula for a total of 113,271. The Department of Conservation (now the Department of Natural Resources) was created in 1921. By 1938, 12 Michigan State Forests encompassing 1,049,042 acres were managed for servicing of recreation and the production of timber.

In the 1920s and 1930s, many landowners didn't have enough money to pay their property taxes. So much of the land was abandoned and returned to the government. The government decided to form State and National Forests. National Parks and Wildlife Refuges also began during this time. Michigan now has six State Forests and three National Forests, each with its own history. Michigan has the second largest State Forest system in the United States, about four million acres or about a fifth of the Michigan forest today.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages the largest state forest system in the nation (2.8 million acres (16,000 km²)), administered by the Forest Resources Division.In literature describing recreational uses of state forest lands, six state forests are identified. However, state forest lands are administered by fifteen DNR Forest Management Units (FMU). There is no state forest land in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula.


State Forest Management

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages the state's forestlands for multiple uses following the principles of sustainable forestry. Sustainable forestry is a holistic approach that aimsto maintain forests as healthy ecosystems that will provide economic, ecological and social benefits for years to come.

Wisconsin's state forests are renewable resources that provide high quality timber while offeringmany additional benefits. To facilitate timber harvests on state forests, the state allows both logging companies and individuals to bid on timber sales. Sales are subsequently awarded to the logging company or individual with the highest bid.

State foresters look at stand history and the current status of stands to determine which are ready for harvest. Foresters check the data to make certain the records for each stand coincide with what is on the ground.

The next step is to plan the timber sales. This includes determining which trees will be cut, which will be left and which follow-up treatment will be required, such as site preparation or tree planting. Foresters give the plans to DNR resource managers in wildlife ,fisheries, water quality and endangered resources to review. After considering all comments, foresters determine both the stand boundaries and the trees to be harvested. They also estimate harvest volume. This information is incorporated into a timber sale notice form and the property manager and supervisor approves or rejects the timber sales.

Next, a notice is placed in newspapers and a mailing is sent to all parties interested in bidding on the sales. Bids are taken on each tract by species. The forester accepts the highest bids under specified conditions and writes a contract for each sale. During and after the harvesting process, each site is inspected to make sure the logger or logging company has met all contractual obligations.

Money generated from timber sales does not remain with the state forests, but is put into a general forestry account for the State of Wisconsin. This account supports forest management activities such as fire control, nursery operations, forest health initiatives and many others. The timber sale processes on individual state forests may differ from the general process, as well as from forest to forest.

More details about the establishment of timber sales on the state forest area is available in the Timber Sale Handbook. For more information on sustainable harvesting and monitoring of Wisconsin timber sales visit: https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/timbersales/process.

Michigan’s state forests are sustainably and responsibly managed. Forest certification is a means for evaluating and confirming the quality of forest management against sets of agreed-upon standards. It also involves tracking and labeling wood-based and non-timber forest products, and assuring consumers these products come from responsibly managed sources.

The Forest Stewardship Council®(FSC®) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) have standards to help ensure forests are managed responsibly for present and future generations. Both standards require continuous improvement in forest management while protecting the environment and providing social and economic benefits.

Michigan DNR forest resources professionals maintain healthy forests, manage wildfire, maintain responsible harvesting certifications and improve wildlife habitat. They care for the state forest by helping new trees to grow, improving wildlife habitat, protecting the forest from wildfires, forest pests and diseases and ensuring the forests are around for future generations to enjoy.

This is done by harvesting trees, planting trees, conducting prescribed burns and more. Methods are chosen based on what foresters want to accomplish in a particular area. It's all part of a forest management plan, carefully laid out and intended to help Michigan's forests thrive.

Timber is periodically offered for sale from state-managed forest land. Sales are conducted for the purposes of harvesting mature and over mature trees ,responding to past or predicted insect and disease outbreaks, salvaging fire-damaged trees, enhancing wildlife habitat and improving forest health.

Timber Sale Online Bidding is an application to help prospective timber purchasers monitor upcoming offerings and to submit bids. To use the system, you must register in person at a DNR office. For more information about the system or about state timber sales in general, call or email Doug Heym, Timber Sales Specialist (517-284-5867, heymd@michigan.gov) with questions. Visit:https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/managing-resources/forestry/timber.

Carefully managed and sustainable forests are essential to the entire Great Lakes Region. That's why it's important we should all take care to keep our forests healthy and abundant - so there is a balance between the needs of the forest and the needs of all that depend on it. Every branch of forestry helps ensure future generations will have a tree for life and forests for a lifetime.


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The Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA)

Provides proven leadership in the Lake States Forest products industry for over 70 years. GLTPA is a non-profit organization proud to represent members in Michigan and Wisconsin and is committed to leading Forest Products Industry in sustainable forest management.

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