From the Forrester
What is the balance?
On statewide basis, Michigan grows a bit more than twice the volume that we harvest, a ratio of about 2.1. Michigan’s growth-toharvest figure is higher than that of either Wisconsin or Minnesota. Across the nation, it ranks in the middle of the pack.
A number greater than “1.0” means more wood grows than is harvested. The higher the number, the larger the proportion of growth there is. That could mean either growth is aggressive or harvest levels are low. A number below “1.0” could mean either natural mortality is high or harvest levels are high.
Each year, more and more wood accumulates in Michigan forests. Some would say this is a good thing. Others see a portion of the growth as a sustainable way to bolster a part of Michigan’s economy, especially in rural areas.
Keep in mind that forest statistics are moving targets; changing somewhat every year. More importantly, they vary across different regions within Michigan. The “2.1 ratio” is not uniform across the state. The ratio also varies among tree species.
It’s also important to understand that wood that accumulates in the inventory does not mean it is available for harvesting. Inventory and availability are two very different things. An owner won’t necessarily sell timber just because it’s there. And, nearly half of Michigan’s forest is owned by families and individuals.
By looking closer at the inventory data, meaningful highlights can be “unpacked”. This is especially important information for investors and planners looking at establishing a new forest products company or biomass energy facility.
For instance, the growth-to-harvest ratio increases from 1.3 in the Upper Peninsula, to nearly 4.0 in the Southern Lower Peninsula. In the Northern Lower Peninsula, there is more growth accumulation on the east side than on the west side.
By tree species, the ratio varies even more widely.
All of our common tree species are growing at rates higher than harvest. White pine grows nearly nine times the volume of its annual harvest. The five most common species in Michigan - sugar maple, red maple, cedar, red pine, and quaking aspen -are growing at rates of 1.9, 2.5, 4.6, 2.6, and 1.4, respectively.
Other tree species are not doing as well, mostly due to impacts by exotic pests or natural cycles leading to maturity. Where possible, harvest levels increase for these species, while the still wood remains sound. Some of the declining species include the elms, paper birch, jack pine, beech, and white ash.
How do forest scientists know these sorts of things?
The U.S. Congress has charged, and funded, the U.S. Forest Service to collect forest inventory across the United States, on all ownerships. This has been ongoing since the 1930s. These inventories are done through a special unit called the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Unit. This unit is often cited as the source for all sorts of descriptive data for forests. The data are often called “FIA data”.
The FIA unit counts trees.
Many pieces of information about the site and sample trees are collected. There are over 10,000 forested plots across the state and dozens of measured items. Each year, a fifth of the plots are re-measured in the field and the rest are modeled. Every five years, a report is issued that describes our forests.
It’s an expensive endeavor. However, our forests are worth billions in monetary terms, alone. Additionally, there are values for environmental services and sense of place that are difficult to assign a dollar value. Nevertheless, we do, indeed, have a pretty good idea about the status of our forests.
Editor’s Note: Bill Cook is a forester with the Michigan State University
Extension in Escanaba. He provides educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. To contact him, call (906) 786-1575 or send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A collection of Cook’s newspaper articles dating back to July 1997 can be found at www.michigansaf.org under the “Forest Info” link.