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Pick red pine cones to help replant Michigan forests

Closeup image of oval-shaped red pine cone and deep green needles

Are you a whiz at tree identification and would you like to make some money? Collecting a bushel of red pine cones this September will earn you $100 and help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources plant trees in state forests.

From Sept. 1-30, you can pick red pine cones and drop them off by appointment at several DNR locations in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula where red pines are most abundant.

What are foresters looking for in a quality seed pine cone from a red pine? Freshness, proper storage and most of all – the right species. Old cones or the wrong species of cone won’t be accepted.

To be paid for your collected cones, register as a vendor in the DNR's online system.

Finding enough of the right cones is not an easy task, so come prepared for the outdoors and expect to be in the woods for a while. A bushel is approximately two 5-gallon buckets.

Tips to get started

  • Red pines have craggy, reddish bark and 4- to-6-inch needles that grow in bundles of two. Scotch and Austrian pine cones, which have some similarities, will not be accepted. See more tips on our identification flyer.
  • Cones should be picked off the tree; cones on the ground are likely too old or wet.
  • No twigs, needles or debris will be accepted in bushels of cones.
  • Cone scales – the individual plates of a cone – should be closed (scales should not move when squeezed), with a little green or purple tint. All brown and open, and they’re too far gone and will be refused.

The easiest way to collect cones is to pick from living red pine trees where branches extend close to the ground. Fresh cones can be found in recently felled treetops from timber sales and on state forest lands. If picking from a recent timber sale, logger permission is required, and hardhats must be worn for safety.

Drop off pine cones by appointment

Store pine cones in a cool, dry place in mesh bags. Onion bags will be provided to pickers by the DNR at drop-off locations. Don’t use burlap or plastic bags, which can hold moisture and ruin the cones. Tag bags on the inside and outside with your name, county where you picked and if the cones are wild or from a plantation.

Cones may be dropped off by appointment at select DNR Customer Service Centers and Wyman Nursery:

Please do not bring pine cones to DNR Customer Service Centers not listed here and without first making an appointment.

What does the DNR do with pine cones? 

After pine cones are dropped off, they’re put into machines that gently warm and shake them, allowing the seeds within to drop out and be stored until planting time. This process helps foresters replant the forest and replenishes the supply of red pine seed, which is in high demand.

Red pine is a fast-growing tree species that is used to make many types of forest products including lumber, posts and pulpwood.

Michigan’s forests provide clean air and water, renewable resources, homes for wildlife and places to explore nature. The DNR is committed to ensuring we will always have forests by maintaining responsible management certifications and regenerating or replanting cut trees. Learn more at

Note to editors: Accompanying resources are available below for download. Caption information follows.

  • ID flyer: Tips to identify red pine cones and common look-alikes
  • Red pine cone: Close-up image of fresh red pine cone and needles
Media contact: David Price, 616-443-1667 or Jason Hartman, 989-390-0279