Michigan's 3.9 million acres of state forests are a treasure. They provide habitat for wildlife, and solitude
for hikers. They support a $3 billion forest recreation and tourism economy, and produce timber for a $9
billion wood products industry.
Since 1921 Michigan's public forests have been managed for these multiple uses by state foresters without
direct interference from lawmakers. Two years ago, however, the state Legislature voted to set the minimum
amount of wood the Department of Natural Resources must prepare for timber sales. That figure for 1999 is
855,000 cords, a 6% increase over 1998.
The logging directive is in response to lobbying from the timber industry, which is operating under new
limits on the trees it can cut from federal forest land. The industry wants to prevent the same thing from
occurring on state-owned lands.
It is unclear what effect the directive will have. While most conservationists agree it is possible to take that
much wood from state forests without damaging their long-term sustainability, there is pronounced concern
about whether careful logging actually can occur given the recent cuts in the DNR forestry staff.
Timber Quotas Up, Inspection Staff Down
While state lawmakers were mandating the increased logging, they also approved an Engler Administration
initiative to reduce the DNR staff. In 1999, the Forest Management Division will have funding for 340 full-
time positions, down 19 from 1998. This is the lowest level since Gov. John Engler took office, at a time when
the division was just starting to rebuild its staffing levels following the recession of the early 1980s.
John Robertson, chief of the Forest Management Division, said it will be difficult to prepare 855,000 cords
for sale without receiving more money from the Legislature to contract with private foresters to mark the trees.
This would enable the DNR foresters to oversee the marking and then inspect the logging operations, he said.
Other DNR officials and conservationists say too few state employees remain to supervise the logging
crews and still manage the forests carefully.
Said Bill Mahalak, an expert on forest care and cultivation who recently retired from the DNR Forest
Management Division, "With less people, we are going to put up more volume? It can't be done. The only
way you could do it is to do a sloppy job."
He noted the directive will be especially difficult to meet now because foresters are in the most time-
consuming phase of their 10-year rotation in examining state forest stands. In recent years, the stands
examined were stump-sprouting aspen, red maple and pin oak -- they are clear-cut and the trees regenerate for
harvest within 40 to 60 years. In the sugar maple, beech, yellow birch, and northern red oak stands ready to be
marked now, each tree must be evaluated and marked for a selective cut.
Howard A. Tanner, director of the DNR from 1975 to 1983 under Gov. William G. Milliken, said state
foresters will not have enough time to monitor logging operations. This could mean an increase in damage to
trees, trails, and forest roads and even theft of trees not for sale.
"The public will be poorly served," he said. "The areas that are cut will be left trashed."
In addition to these concerns, Anne Woiwode of the Sierra Club noted that the state has not completed a
project it started seven years ago to identify how much old-growth forest should be preserved. She called on
the state to redouble its efforts to complete the project now that timber harvests will be increased.
She added that if the Forest Management Division is increasingly focused on timber marking, there will be
even fewer staffers available to remove fallen limbs from recreation trails, keep off-road vehicles from causing
soil erosion, and clean up trash from campgrounds.
Diane Conners is a former environmental reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
CONTACTS: John Robertson, 517-373-1275; Anne Woiwode, 517-484-2372; Peter Grieves, executive director,
Michigan Association of Timbermen, 800-682-4979; Bill Mahalak, Michigan Resource Stewards, 517-821-5332;
Arlin Wasserman at the Institute, 616-882-4723.