Forest forensics: Ghosts on the Landscape

Use the clues in your local woods to understand what has happened in Michigan’s past.

Some trees in the forest.
Many features we see in the forest today are clues to what has happened in the past.

An upcoming educational series hosted by Michigan State University Extension will teach you how to read history in the landscape around you. Walking through Michigan’s forests can lead to seeing many mysterious sightings: humps, bumps, pits, and valleys are all common features. If you look closely, you might also see crooked trees, or random boulders, or old fence posts in the middle of nowhere. But what do all these features mean?

The forests we see in Michigan today have been influenced in many ways by what has happened in the past, and clues to whether those unique features are natural or human-caused can be found if you know how to look for them.

Michigan State University Extension will be hosting Tom Wessels, author of the book, “Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape” for an hour-long webinar to help interpret historical events in our own forests. He will use highlighted examples from the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy to show what past climactic, geologic, and human influences look like in the field.

After the webinar, head out to the woods near you and discover the history under your feet. Want to learn even more about those natural and human influences? Prior to Tom Wessels’ feature, MSU Extension will offer two “prequel” webinars featuring regional experts on climatic and geological events that have shaped what is now Michigan, and another focusing on the significant landscape impacts created by Native Americans and the influx of European populations.

This three-part series will be offered on Thursday evenings from 7-8 p.m. Oct. 22, Oct. 29, and Nov. 5. Registration is free and designed for the whole family to enjoy. Webinar connection information will be emailed to you after signing up. Please refer to the following website for registration information:

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