In Michigan, our lives are deeply rooted in the woodlands surrounding us. The state’s forest lands surround our cities, dominate our northern landscapes and provide the raw materials that make our homes, our furniture, our paper – even some of our makeup, clothing and beer.
Plain and simple, Michigan’s future can be found in its trees.
“Everything from the water you drink to the air you breathe is purified by Michigan’s forests,” said Debbie Begalle, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division. “Most people look right past the trees in their own neighborhood not realizing the vital role they play in our lives. They provide shade in our backyards and create homes for birds, squirrels and other wildlife. Trees make life better for all of us.”
Of course, those trees you see didn’t just appear. In southeast Michigan particularly, most forests are young growth, part of the second or third wave of trees grown after early settlers cleared the land. Once the science of forestry took hold in the early 20th century, Michigan replanted millions of trees, a practice that continues today. In 2017, the DNR planted more than 6 million trees on nearly 7,000 acres of forest land. This helps ensure a future full of healthy, robust woodlands.
“Carefully managed and sustainable forests, whether they’re in the heart of Detroit or the Upper Peninsula, are essential for a healthy environment and the center of what forestry is all about,” Begalle said. “Forests are much healthier when they are actively managed.”
Active management of the forest provides many positive outcomes. Forestry involves planting, thinning and harvesting trees to provide wildlife habitat, provide for human needs and maintain their value as a renewable resource. Every year, about twice as much wood in Michigan is grown than is harvested, with the DNR carefully balancing the needs of people and animals.
All that hard work recently received national attention. Last fall, the Michigan DNR was honored for sustainably managing the nearly 4 million acres of state forests. It was among 16 organizations and individuals to earn leadership awards from the Forest Stewardship Council, the world’s leading forest certification system.
“We were blown away by the accomplishments of our award winners this year,” said Corey Brinkema, president of the Forest Stewardship Council U.S. “The award winners show we can conserve forests, even as we use forest products in our daily lives.”
The DNR was honored for being one of the longest-standing FSC-certified forest managers in the Lake States region. FSC certification involves a rigorous independent review to ensure forest management practices meet the highest standards for environmental and social benefits.
“It’s important to the people of Michigan that we manage forests so that they’re there for our children and grandchildren,” Begalle said. “We can do that while providing quality wildlife habitat, protecting the environment and manufacturing wood products that we use every day.”
That’s not an exaggeration – whether you realize it or not, the woods are with you during nearly every part of your day. It’s possible you’re even wearing something tree-related right now. Some Michigan trees that are harvested get turned into pulp, which is used to make such fabrics as rayon and the trendy Tencel. The cellulose from wood pulp is also used to give nail polish, lipstick and foundation their viscous qualities. All told, more than 96,000 Michigan jobs rely on the forest products industry, which contributes about $20 billion annually to the state’s economy.
“And after all that, I still hear from people who say they use artificial Christmas trees because they don’t want to kill a tree,” said Amy Start, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. Christmas trees are an agricultural product that benefits Michigan’s economy and the environment.
“Wherever I go in the state, I’m always hearing from people who say how important it is to have access to forests,” Begalle said. “Whether it’s through camping or hunting or playing in the woods behind their homes, so many people have fond memories and have developed rich family traditions tied to forests. It’s great to see so many people who appreciate trees.”
That often resonates through generations. In 1999, Ann Arbor resident Herman Lunden Miller wrote a book about his grandfather, the late Herman Lunden, who was one of Michigan’s first forestry advocates. Lunden was instrumental in changing the way state residents thought of trees.
“Years before it was a science, my grandfather understood the basics of forestry, which included cutting down some trees to ensure the forest would stay healthy,” Miller said. “Now this is all common knowledge, but he was way ahead of his time.”
This summer, a new museum dedicated to forestry will open in the Pigeon River Country State Forest near Gaylord. It will include an exhibit on Lunden and feature some of his personal effects, as well as photos and other curios highlighting Michigan’s historical ties to forests.
Besides the obvious economic benefits, sustainable and healthy forests are important to every Michigan resident. Forestry creates healthier habitats for wildlife and gives us recreation space. Forests also make for great beer.
“The forests here in Michigan add a value that’s hard to measure,” said Joe Short, CEO/creative engineer at Short’s Brewing Co. in Bellaire. “We love where we live and we love what we do. You’ll always find our staff enjoying the woods on a run, bike, ski, hike, hunting or otherwise. We cherish our lands.”
Short uses Michigan tree products such as spruce tips to flavor three of his beer varieties. He said his brewery wouldn’t be the same without Michigan forests.
“They are not highly profitable beers because of the expense of sourcing the specialty ingredients and the labor involved in employing them in the beer,” Short said. “But we do it for that distinct taste of home.”
Of course, there are also the snowmobiling trails, cross-country skiing loops and snowshoeing paths to explore in Michigan this winter, all of which get you up close and personal with trees in their natural environment.
So whether you’re out waterfall hunting among some of the state’s oldest trees, reading your morning newspaper printed on paper made from Michigan trees or rocking your favorite rayon Hawaiian shirt to the brewery to drink a tree-flavored craft beer, there’s just no escaping the Michigan woods in your life. And with the DNR committed to sound forestry practices, you can count on Michigan’s forests to be here for generations to come.
For more information on forestry, including fun projects like instructions for making an origami tree, go to Michigan.gov/ForestsForALifetime.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.