Forestry in the Great Lakes State
Forests in Michigan today are a legacy of natural vegetative succession pathways and post-settlement practices. The landscape is mostly composed of second growth forests that have been heavily influenced by a variety of human-induced disturbances. This started with harvesting of white and red pine and many other species, followed by large-scale catastrophic wildfires fueled by the resulting slash, and then moving to a period of near total exclusion of fire from the landscape. Beginning in the early 1900s, the forests have been undergoing almost a century of gradual re-growth.
Since the 1950s, forest acreage has remained relatively stable, at approximately 19.3 million acres. Losses or conversions out of forestland between have tended to be compensated for by other lands being converted into forestland. The predominant land type converting into forestland has been agricultural land. In contrast to the stable forest acreage, total standing timber volumes have tripled since the middle of the last century, reflecting a maturing forest. The expanding volume also indicates that more growth has been continuously added to the forest than what has been removed or died through natural causes, as evidenced by annual growth that has increased over the past 50 years. Michigan’s surplus growing stock (annual net growth less harvests) is among the largest in the nation, with forests currently growing more than twice as much wood than is being harvested each year, and this trend is expected to continue. The majority of annual net growth occurred in the hard and soft maple, white and red pine, cottonwood, and aspen forest types.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division (FRD) manages 4 million acres of state forest land for the economic, environmental and social needs of Michigan residents. In addition to responsibilities on state forest land, FRD — along with many partners — is involved in the protection of private forest land in the areas of wildfire protection, forest health monitoring and planning, commercial forest applications, and assistance with land management.