Seeking residents' input on management of state forest land

An aerial view of a fall forest in the Upper Peninsula.

Dec. 13, 2012

Did you know that, as a Michigan resident, you're co-owner of nearly 4 million acres of state forest land? That's the amount of forest land the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing - while keeping the needs of all forest stakeholders in mind.

Because this forest land belongs to everyone, the DNR wants the public to have a say in how it is used. Now through Jan. 2, 2013, anyone interested in the health and sustainability of the state forest has the chance to do just that by sharing their thoughts about the DNR's draft Regional State Forest Management Plans (RSFMPs). Scenes like this are a big reason the DNR drafted regional management plans. Working many stakeholders, the DNR aims to ensure residents and visitors can enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Michigan's forest resources for years to come. (Image on the right.)

According to Bill O'Neill, chief of the DNR's Forest Resources Division, the regional plans grew out of a need for better planning and communication between state and local levels.

DNR forester Ed Rice marks the boundary of a future timber sale in Iron County."After getting a lot of important input from DNR field staff and stakeholders," he said, "it just made sense to think regionally about the different types of forests that are present in the eastern Upper Peninsula, the western Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula."

To get the balance right, the DNR worked with a diverse group that included folks from government organizations, outdoor recreation, the forest industry and conservation agencies, as well as everyday citizens. The end product - the draft plans - are on the DNR's website at www.michigan.gov/regionalforestplans.

O'Neill said the department's aim really was to create a thoughtful, workable set of regional plans that:

  • Recognize the unique needs of individual forest management areas (groupings of existing forest compartments that range in size from approximately 17,000 to 105,000 acres);
  • Account for regional needs;
  • Better inform and guide management and operational decisions for timber production and wildlife habitat; and
  • Help improve communication among all interested individuals and organizations.

"Sustaining our state forest land is a huge responsibility that requires cooperation from everyone," said O'Neill, who also serves as state forester. "We worked hard to develop plans that will help ensure quality wildlife habitat and ample recreation opportunities are well represented, while also keeping the needs of the forest industry in mind.

DNR forester Dan McNamee inspects the harvest of an active timber sale in Delta County."If you enjoy, care about or rely on Michigan's state forest land, we want to hear from you. Public review and feedback are vital to the success of these plans."

O'Neill added that the plans will help guide the DNR in its pursuit of two related missions: the wise current use of natural resources and protection of those resources for the future.

Stakeholder input One organization that will be taking a close look at the drafts is the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. Marvin Roberson, a forest policy specialist for the group, stressed how important it is for people who treasure Michigan's forest land to do the same.

"As stakeholders of our state forest system, we're excited that this is the first time that the public has really had an opportunity to provide input regionally and not just on a compartment-review level," said Roberson, who also serves on the DNR's Forest Management Advisory Committee.

"It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into these drafts that will serve as a blueprint for how our state forest system will be managed," he added. "While we might not agree with everything that is included in the plans, having the opportunity to voice concerns while they are in the draft stage is an important part of making sure these plans will best reflect our collective needs."

A trenching machine prepares soil for future planting of red pine seedlings.Jessica Turino, senior forestry services specialist for the Weyerhaeuser NR Company, a wood products business in Grayling, said providing feedback is important for the timber industry – a key economic driver that contributes to a $14 billion statewide industry that supports about 26,000 jobs.

"The DNR Regional State Forest Management Plans are a vital part of sustainably managing the 4 million acres of state forest land we have here in Michigan," said Turino, who also serves on the DNR's Timber Advisory Council.

These plans cover all aspects of natural resource management and are intended to meet the demands of current and future generations," Turino said. "As a stakeholder, we are pleased to have the opportunity to provide input into this process as we all play a role in the viability of our Michigan forests and the local economies that depend on them."

Guiding decisions

Once finalized, the plans will provide long-term, landscape-level direction for resource managers that will guide decisions about specific activities and treatments on state forest land. The plans describe things like:

  • resource conditions;
  • resource management practices;
  • levels of timber production;
  • ecosystem health and protection;
  • vegetative management;
  • wildlife habitat management;
  • fisheries values;
  • recreation opportunities; and
  • soil and water protection.

DNR forester Tricia Mitchell conducts a survey to determine the surviving density of red pines.The plans also provide for an ecosystem-based approach to management and help to ensure the maintenance of independent, third-party forest certification.

The DNR has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); both of these agencies have audited the DNR's forest management practices against biological, social and economic standards and have independently certified those practices as sound, comprehensive and likely sustainable.

Providing feedback

The DNR encourages people to visit www.michigan.gov/regionalforestplans, review the plans - especially the sections most relevant to their expertise or interests - and give feedback. Comments may be submitted via email to forestplancomments@michigan.gov.

"Now is the time to speak up and tell us what matters most to you about Michigan's state forests," said the DNR's O'Neill. "Take a look at what we've put together and let us know what makes sense and what can be improved."

What comes next?

Following public review, the DNR will assess the feedback it has received, consult with stakeholders, revise each plan accordingly and prepare for final review and approval by the DNR director at a future meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. Implementation of the Regional State Forest Management Plans will begin with the 2015 compartment review process and will continue over the 10-year life of these plans.

An aerial view of a fall forest."Michigan's forests are a huge part of our state's social, economic and ecological landscape. Camping, hiking, timber production, hunting and other forest-related activities have a positive effect on surrounding communities and individual livelihoods," O'Neill said.

He added the draft plans do take all of those factors into account, but the DNR would like them to be as comprehensive as they can be - and that means hearing from as many state forest co-owners as possible.

After all, Michigan's state forest land really does belong to all of us.

To learn more about the draft Regional State Forest Management Plans, go to www.michigan.gov/regionalforestplans.