Michigan craftsmen produce beauty from dying trees
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No knocks on this wood: One of the largest state forest systems in nation produces conservation management successes, one story at a time
TROY – Where other people see gnarly, dead trees, siblings Jennifer and Joe Barger see raw beauty.
“Salvaging urban trees and milling them into new, usable wood for craftsmen and do-it-yourselfers has been a real blessing for our family,” said Jennifer Barger, Live Edge Detroit’s cofounder with her brother Joe.
The duo teamed up in 2016 with their dad, Mike Barger, to launch the growing Troy company that takes dead or dying Detroit-area trees and repurposes them into slabs of rough-sawn wood. The logs come from Mike’s Tree Surgeons, which the family patriarch started 32 years ago.
“We kept coming across beautiful logs from tree removal jobs in urban Detroit that I just hated to turn into mulch or firewood. So I finally decided I would mill them and see if we couldn’t do something with them down the road,” said Mike Barger, a certified urban forester.
Live Edge Detroit now mills and preserves thousands of unique wood slabs and sells them at its Troy warehouse or The Rust Belt Market in Ferndale. Woodworkers use the slabs or round pieces to make wooden tables, shelves, cutting boards, bowls and benches.
“We’re passionate about preserving and repurposing the natural beauty of these trees,” Jennifer Barger said.
Trees inspire civic pride, success
The Bargers’ triumph with Live Edge Detroit highlights a broader effort by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and affiliated organizations to better inform Michigan residents on a vision many don’t grasp or take for granted.
Simply put: The growth and preservation of Michigan’s forest-based economy is key to the state’s overall future, whether the setting is urban, suburban or rural.
“The conservation management policies and practices we apply to urban, suburban and rural forests are distinctly different and unique to their respective landscapes,” said Debbie Begalle, assistant forestry chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division.
“What they have in common is that it’s crucial for Michigan to ensure we have healthier and more resilient landscapes, better and more fire-adapted communities, improved habitat, air, and water quality, and a host of other public benefits that come from actively and sustainably managed forests,” Begalle said.
Managing the circle of life
From Metro Detroit to Copper Harbor on the Upper Peninsula’s northern tip, the Great Lakes State is blessed with billions of trees. The DNR is responsible for the professional, sustainable management of one of the largest state forest systems in the nation.
But trees don’t just take care of themselves.
Thanks to a never-ending cycle of planting, growing, harvesting and replanting, the DNR’s Forest Resources Division actively manages this precious renewable natural resource in a responsible manner.
Forestry -- the science, art and practice of sustainably managing forests and all their resources for the benefit of humans -- is critical to ensuring Michigan’s almost 20 million acres of forest land are here for generations.
Approximately 4 million of those 20 million acres of forest land are managed by the state of Michigan. Collectively, DNR foresters, recreation specialists and wildlife and fisheries biologists work together to keep state forests healthy.
“Michigan is dedicated to the sustainable management of our natural resources, including our beautiful forests,” Begalle said.
The DNR carefully plans every tree harvest, planting and prescribed burn to regenerate aging state forests, control invasive species, remove hazardous wildfire fuels or improve wildlife habitat.
Thriving forests strengthen communities
Maintaining sustainable and healthy state forests benefits every Michigan resident. State forests provide unique destinations for hiking, camping, fishing and other recreational opportunities.
Harvesting timber is a big part of forest management because it helps to manage disease and promote new tree growth, while creating diverse habitats for wildlife. Trees also provide for many of the wood products used every day, which in turn, contributes to the strength of Michigan communities.
Experts say Michigan’s forest products industry is among the best in the nation. Among Northeastern states, Michigan ranks first in pine acres, third in hardwood acres and third in aspen acres. The state also produces some of the best sugar maple and red oak timber in the world.
The forest products industry annually contributes more than $20 billion to Michigan’s economy and supports more than 96,000 jobs in diverse positions – from loggers and truck drivers to furniture and cabinetry makers. In the Upper Peninsula, one-third of all manufacturing jobs are related to the forest products industry.
If you plant them, they will grow
Strategically removing established trees is not only good for the economy, it’s good for the overall health of the forest. State-managed public forests also make a strong contribution to the forest products industry by providing approximately 20 percent of the total timber harvested in the state.
The process begins with scientifically planning and coordinating timber harvests and then establishing young trees after the previous stand has been removed. The success of this strategy is undeniable: Michigan’s forests are growing considerably faster than they are being harvested. Each year 2.7 times more wood is grown than harvested.
Reforestation is a vital part of forest management planning on all state forest lands. An average of 6 million seedlings are planted on about 6,000 acres of state forest land each year. The DNR most often plants jack pine and red pine trees.
Most of these planted trees reproduce and regrow quickly on their own after a thinning or clear-cut; some species begin to regenerate within a year after a timber harvest.
The state inventories and evaluates one-tenth of its forest-land each year. This state-of-the-art program provides key information on how to best manage the land so it fosters a healthy, sustainable forest that supports and balances the needs of people and wildlife.
For the past 12 years, two independent organizations – the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative -- have certified that the DNR’s forest management practices are sustainable.
“The DNR is dedicated to balancing the growth and harvest of trees with the long-term management and protection of our forest resources,” Begalle said. “We take our vision for vital, healthy and abundant Michigan forests very seriously.”
New future for old trees
High on Michigan’s tree conservation and management priority list is to build local community’s capacity to replant and sustainably manage urban and suburban forests to provide the maximum environmental, economic, and social benefits from these resources.
Jennifer and Joe Barger embrace that vision.
Live Edge Detroit’s slab sales is a story of success that epitomizes the Michigan DNR’s goal of encouraging the repurposing of high-quality wood that would have been wasted in the past. The DNR’s urban forestry program provides free consulting and grants to municipalities to promote environments where urban forests can thrive.
From their perch in Southeast Michigan, the Bargers say they will continue growing their new company in a sustainable way – and add some new beauty to the world.
“Whenever someone buys our wood, I always ask for a picture of what they end up creating with it,” Jennifer Barger said. “It makes me so happy that everyone has their own vision for these old trees and that they become a focal point in people’s homes.”
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.