Each year, Jon Fosgitt’s forestry crew goes “timber cruising” through Michigan’s Two Hearted Forest Reserve, taking a painstaking inventory of timber, vernal ponds, streams and wildlife.
Among the seemingly endless rows of sugar maples, there are a few surprises: a remnant yellow birch, the shrill pip of an olive-sided flycatcher and a stand of white pine. The nearly 25,000 acres owned by The Nature Conservancy are a patchwork of these rare trees that Fosgitt and his crew are carefully uncovering, step by step, acre by acre.
The Conservancy is working with Fosgitt, a forester at Cold Springs Forestry, to help develop a management plan aimed at restoring the Upper Peninsula’s forest to its naturally diverse ecosystem. Fosgitt found the idea enticing professionally, to demonstrate how sustainable forestry carries economic benefits, and personally, as it meshed with his own philosophy of keeping forestry as natural as possible.
The variety of wildlife in the Two-Hearted River watershed is truly astounding. Species like the black-backed woodpecker, black bear and moose call the Reserve home. Many of these creatures need vast expanses of unbroken land to survive, and the large acreage at the Reserve provides ideal habitat for them.
As Fosgitt and his crew work, Conservancy scientists will use the Two Hearted as a living laboratory, performing studies that help answer economic and biodiversity questions. With their results, scientists hope to inform and influence private and public forest management systems and address challenges of climate change, altered fire regime, energy technology, invasive species and altered waterflows in streams and rivers.
Forests provide benefits for both nature and people. In addition to the habitat is provides animals, a diverse forest with intermittent wetlands can serve as a natural sponge by filtering sediment and pollutants from water, cleaning it before it flows into the local watershed. Forests also store carbon, cleaning the air we breathe.
Sustainable forestry practices can provide economic benefits as well. Fosgitt’s team is interested in proving the effectiveness of silvicultural practices, or forestry that aims to imitate the natural processes of forest growth. He says while this year’s harvest produced a modest profit, this is an important achievement in a challenging economy. He expects even better returns in the future as a diverse landscape of trees will allow for the growth of larger trees in diameter.
“Proving this works will move us toward effective management while having a positive economic impact,” Fosgitt says.
“The best and most efficient way of restoring biodiversity to the Two Hearted seems counterintuitive: cutting parts of it down,” says Dr. Tina Hall, the Conservancy’s director of conservation programs in Michigan. “We need to make selective harvests to create soil and canopy disturbances that will encourage re-growth of a diverse forest with species like yellow birch. We are cutting to improve biodiversity.”
Biodiversity not only provides more desirable habitat for wildlife species, it also keeps the forest healthy and able to defend itself against invasive insects and diseases. Though sugar maples inhabit the majority of Two Hearted, the Conservancy is concentrating on the remaining pockets of diversity.
Timber cruisers look for areas where yellow birch still grows and where harvested stands of sugar maples may one day give way to American birch, white and black spruce, hemlock and paper birch. Without the Conservancy’s selective harvest, the forest would require natural disasters—like tornados, unlikely in the Upper Peninsula—to encourage the diverse growth needed for biodiversity.
April 18, 2011