Resilient Forests | Aerial footage of healthy Michigan forests. ©: Jason Whalen
A view of rolling green forests with Lake Superior in the distance. The sky is blue and full of white clouds.
Mt Baldy, Michigan Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Stories in Michigan

Creating Resilient Forests

Michigan’s forests provide so many benefits to nature and people—and they have even more to give.

Just over half of Michigan is forested. These 20 million acres represent a vital part of Michigan’s nature, providing a home to iconic wildlife like the gray wolf, black bear and migratory songbirds that fill the trees with color in the spring. Michigan’s forests are also an important legacy for people. They support over 100,000 jobs and a $20 billion economy. And, they are core to our recreational heritage—many Michiganders have fond early memories of walks in the woods.

Two moose splash through shallow water.
MOOSE HAVEN Moose thrive in the forested wetlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. © TNC Archives
A black bear walks through a forest clearing that is full of bright green grass and other plants.
Bear Crossing A black bear wanders past a trail camera in Wilderness Lakes Reserve. © TNC
MOOSE HAVEN Moose thrive in the forested wetlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. © TNC Archives
Bear Crossing A black bear wanders past a trail camera in Wilderness Lakes Reserve. © TNC

Our forests provide so many benefits to nature and people—and they have even more to give. In a changing climate, forests represent a powerful carbon “sink” that can offset greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy forests store more carbon, but the health of Michigan’s forests has been challenged by a complex history of ownership and intensive use, as well as encroaching pests and disease.

TNC is demonstrating sustainable, data-driven forest management practices—and encouraging others to use them as well—to ensure Michigan’s forests remain healthy, resilient and productive for generations to come.

By the Numbers

  • 271,338 acres protected in total, across eight counties.
  • TNC’s 23,338-acre Two Hearted River Forest Reserve established.
  • 248,000 acres of working forest easements held by the state.
  • More than 52,000 acres of wetlands protected.

Protection

In 2005, TNC and the State of Michigan—with the support of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Federal Forest Legacy Program and many generous donors and partners—protected over 270,000 acres of some of the most spectacular forests, lakes, rivers and headwaters in Michigan. This vast public-private partnership, dubbed the “Big U.P. Deal,” is a conservation project that keeps on giving—providing a strong foundation for learning, inspiration and impact as TNC moves forward into an exciting new chapter for resilient forests in Michigan.

A map outlining the areas impacted by the Northern Great Lakes Forest Project.
The Big U.P. Deal The Northern Great Lakes Forest Project (a.k.a. the "Big U.P. Deal") is the single largest conservation project in Michigan state history, covering 273,000 acres.

Demonstration

The Big U.P. Deal led to the creation of the Two Hearted River Forest Reserve, TNC’s first reserve in Michigan, which acts as a “living laboratory” where we can study the practices that make forests healthier, while also supporting sustainable forestry jobs and promoting climate benefits.

Using sustainable logging practices, we can improve the health and diversity of the forests. We promote sustainable forestry practices, such as selective logging, which involves assessing each individual tree to decide which trees should be cut for the health and diversity of the whole forest.

A Good Cut (3:33) The Nature Conservancy is taking a unique approach to restore forests in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - by cutting them down.

Partnerships

TNC works with state and federal agencies, Indigenous communities and private landowners to scale up the conservation of healthy Michigan forests. We share our results and knowledge widely to elevate awareness of the economic, ecological and climate mitigation potential of sustainable forestry practices; to promote Forest Stewardship Council® FSC®-C008922 certification for managed forestlands; and to encourage investment in a more sustainable forest products industry.

In October 2018, we worked with the U.S. Forest Service–Ottawa National Forest to complete a wetland restoration project that involved building 480 feet of boardwalk. Deep within the Michigamme Highlands of the Upper Peninsula in the McCormick Wilderness Area—we worked with two strings of specially-trained pack mules to construct a boardwalk over a mile into the wilderness. This project was funded through a restoration timber sale conducted on forest service lands.  

Happy Trails (3:40) TNC and the U.S. Forest Service–Ottawa National Forest tackle a trail restoration project in a most unusual way: By using mules to help build a boardwalk nearly a mile into the Upper Peninsula's McCormick Wilderness Area, a remote, wild place where no motorized vehicles or power tools are allowed.

Science

Science is the foundation of all our work, from climate science research projects to quantitative metrics for forest health and climate sensitivity. We map priorities and other research, including TNC’s national resilient and connected network study, to prioritize forest protection projects.

A person walks through a forest of trees that are covered in changing leaves.
Michigamme Highlands In these Upper Peninsula highlands, TNC aims to create a “conservation corridor” of lands protected by TNC, partners and those committed to sustainable forest practices. © Dietrich Ludwig
A stream runs through a bright, green forest of trees before disappearing around a bend.
Wilderness Lakes Reserve Protected in 2017, and then nearly doubled in size in 2021, this reserve now features over 10,000 acres of forests interspersed with high-quality wetlands and glacial lakes. © Robert Anthony
Michigamme Highlands In these Upper Peninsula highlands, TNC aims to create a “conservation corridor” of lands protected by TNC, partners and those committed to sustainable forest practices. © Dietrich Ludwig
Wilderness Lakes Reserve Protected in 2017, and then nearly doubled in size in 2021, this reserve now features over 10,000 acres of forests interspersed with high-quality wetlands and glacial lakes. © Robert Anthony

Keep Learning

Explore these resources to learn more about our work in Michigan's vast forests.

  • Three silhouettes of evergreen trees.

    Resilient Forests Overview

    Four-page overview of the strategies employed to protect Michigan's forests. Download

  • Silhouette of three trees.

    Michigan's Forest Biomaterials

    The Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute partnered with TNC to create and release this webpage, designed to showcase the state’s potential to create a strong bioeconomy. View the Story Map

  • Three silhouettes of evergreen trees.

    Working Woodlands

    TNC’s Working Woodlands initiative assists private landowners (of properties greater than -2000 acres) with forest management planning, becoming Forest Stewardship Council® FSC®-C008922 certification and enrolling in carbon markets. Learn More

  • Silhouette of three trees.

    Family Forest Carbon Program

    The Family Forest Carbon Program is an option for owners of smaller properties, helping them improve management practices and grouping properties to qualify them for carbon incentives. Learn More