Keep your woods healthy for tomorrow

Forest owners have a new tool to identify and address threats to their own forest’s long-term health.

A graphic of the woods with the words

Michigan’s forests are extensive, diverse, and critical to the state’s environmental and economic health. Over 20 million acres of forest provide raw materials for paper and timber products, critical habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, and a source for all kinds of recreational opportunities that also serve as a vital economic driver in rural communities through tourism.

A large proportion of Michigan’s forest land is owned by nonindustrial private forest landowners, otherwise known generally as family forest owners. And although a majority of them own 20 acres or less, their combined ownership across the state adds up to 9 million acres. In total, the U.S. Forest Service National Woodland Owner Survey estimates that Michigan has about 375,000 of these ownerships. This means a lot of individuals and families are invested in this important forest resource.

According to the Forest Service survey, a majority of family forest owners prioritize enjoying nature and privacy rather than forest products. These owners explicitly want to pass their forests to their heirs —meaning they want to keep their forests as forests for the long-term. Most express a deep concern to keep their forests healthy, but may not know exactly what it means to maintain a healthy forest.

With the increase in impacts related to exotic invasive pests and diseases coupled with changes in our climate, managing a healthy forest is becoming more challenging. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources 2019 Forest Health Highlights, many of the most threatening pests and diseases to the state’s forests potentially spread faster and are more likely to kill its hosts with our warmer winters and frequent summer droughts.

Recently, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and Michigan State University Extension developed a publication to help forest landowners assess their own lands in the face of these threats. Titled “Keep Your Woods Healthy for Tomorrow: A Tool to Assess Risk in a Changing Climate,” the goal of this publication is to help landowners recognize potential vulnerabilities in their forests. It also offers suggestions on how active forest management can help keep forests healthy and vigorous with the help of a forester or other natural resource professional.

The 12-page assessment tool is organized into forest health “scorecards” that focus on four different categories: property level considerations, forest structure, forest diversity and composition, and tree regeneration. For each of those categories, landowners can assess the risk factors for their own property, and gain basic information on how to remedy those factors. The scorecards can then be used to discuss management options with a forester, who can provide long-term planning advice for a future forest that can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Michigan State University Extension forestry staff assisted NIACS to adapt this publication from its original, based on Cornell Cooperative Extension and The Nature Conservancy. Online access to the publication is free. Visit the Climate Change Response Framework website for more information.

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