Wild mushrooms grow on a bed of bright green moss.
Ross Coastal Plain Preserve Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Stories in Michigan

Forest Restoration in Action

We're working with partners across the state to help make Michigan forests more diverse, climate-resilient and disease-resistant.

Change isn’t always bad. Sometimes, to restore our forests to their most healthy and resilient condition, we have to rearrange things. Climate change, in the form of pests and drought, puts pressure on Michigan forests. To overcome these threats, we have to focus on restoration efforts.

TNC is taking this climate lens to forest restoration across the state, looking at where and how conservation action can help accelerate the recovery of species diversity and climate resilience in forests formerly managed for timber production.

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A Real-Life Example: Ross Coastal Plain Marsh

From May to July, TNC removed several stands of red pine on TNC’s Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve in southwest Michigan. The land, totaling 43 acres, had been planted in a monoculture by previous landowners many years ago. 

What is a Monoculture?

A monoculture is when a single plant is grown across a specific area of land. In the case of Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve, this plant was red pine.

While red pine occurs naturally in Michigan, the habitat these crowded plantation rows created does not. Their removal will allow the growth of other native species like white pine, beech, oak and sassafras, and a more naturally diverse habitat. 

This coming spring, we will accelerate this regeneration by planting 2,300 native trees in the area. Over time, a healthier, more resilient forest will emerge.

This type of restoration effort isn't limited to one preserve. We want forests across the state to be happier, healthier, and better able to tackle climate change.

A forester looks up at a tree in the autumn.
Two Hearted River Forester Jon Fosgitt takes inventory of trees and records their diameter and height in Michigan's Two Hearted River Forest Reserve. © Drew Kelly

Two Hearted River Forest Reserve

In the last year, TNC has been creating canopy gaps in our 23,000-acre Two Hearted River Forest Reserve, which is dominated by sugar maple. These forests were at one time more diverse, but past timbering practices removed many of the other species. 

Canopy gaps provide open spaces where under-represented species can regenerate, bringing back more conifer trees for wildlife species that depend on them—such as snowshoe hare, pine marten and migratory birds. 

Two Hearted River Forest Reserve

In the last year, TNC has been creating canopy gaps in our 23,000-acre Two Hearted River Forest Reserve, which is dominated by sugar maple. These forests were at one time more diverse, but past timbering practices removed many of the other species. 

Canopy gaps provide open spaces where under-represented species can regenerate, bringing back more conifer trees for wildlife species that depend on them—such as snowshoe hare, pine marten and migratory birds. 

We gave this process a boost by also underplanting climate-resilient species such as red oak, white spruce and eastern hemlock.

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By the Numbers: Two Hearted River Forest Reserve

  • green trees

    123

    acres selectively thinned

  • green trees

    123

    acres underplanted

  • green trees

    48,000

    trees planted over two years

A new tree begins to grow in Ottawa National Forest.
Ottawa National Forest A tree grows in Ottawa National Forest © Kim Steinberger/TNC

Ottawa National Forest

Through an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, TNC staff planted white pine, white spruce, tamarack and hemlock along rivers in the Ottawa National Forest this past spring. 

This partnership aims to restore forest connectivity, resilience and habitat quality along high-priority Upper Peninsula streams, which are especially vulnerable to habitat loss. 

Ottawa National Forest

Through an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, TNC staff planted white pine, white spruce, tamarack and hemlock along rivers in the Ottawa National Forest this past spring. 

This partnership aims to restore forest connectivity, resilience and habitat quality along high-priority Upper Peninsula streams, which are especially vulnerable to habitat loss. 

Some of these areas are dominated by ash trees that are threatened by the spread of the emerald ash borer, and planting these additional saplings is important to protect overall forest health.

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By the Numbers: Ottawa National Forest

  • green trees

    68

    acres restored

  • green trees

    19,450

    trees planted in the area

  • green trees

    2.5

    river miles covered

The sun shines through a red oak leaf.
Red Oak Leaves Red Oak leaves, Paw Paw Prairie Fen Preserve. © Jason Whalen

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Lands

In the spring, TNC provided 2,000 northern red oak saplings to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. 

These were planted in areas where the destructive pest spruce bud worm has killed off balsam fir, white spruce and other trees, to restore the health of these forest stands.

This adds long-lived hardwood species to the forest and improves forage availability for wildlife including black bear, wild turkey and wood duck.

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Lands

In the spring, TNC provided 2,000 northern red oak saplings to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. 

These were planted in areas where the destructive pest spruce bud worm has killed off balsam fir, white spruce and other trees, to restore the health of these forest stands.

This adds long-lived hardwood species to the forest and improves forage availability for wildlife including black bear, wild turkey and wood duck.

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