Places We Protect

Northern Great Lakes Forest Project


Two Hearted River Forest Reserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Two Hearted River Forest Two Hearted River Forest Reserve in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. © Richard Baumer

This is the largest single land protection project in Michigan history.


Dominated by a mosaic of diverse forest community types, the landscape of the Upper Peninsula remains relatively unfragmented and undeveloped with good ecological health to support a rich diversity of wildlife and ecological processes. Intermingled within the forest, representing a significant percentage of the entire landscape, are freshwater aquatic systems (rivers, lakes and a variety of wetlands) that represent additional areas of high conservation concern such as the Two-Hearted River Watershed.

Conservation Assets

The land affected by this agreement includes some of Michigan’s most spectacular forests, lakes, rivers and streams.

  • More than 300 natural lakes, including 74 lakes larger than ten acres;
  • 192 miles of Class I trout streams, including the Two Hearted River (a state-designated Michigan Natural River) and the Presque Isle River (a federally designated National Wild and Scenic River), as well as over 324 miles of additional riparian habitat along major rivers and tributaries (roughly 516 miles total);
  • More than 31 miles of land bordering Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, including 20,000 acres of adjacent buffer;
  • Roughly 10,000 acres of buffer and inholdings to Tahquamenon Falls State Park;
  • Roughly 10,000 acres of buffer and inholdings to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park;
  • More than 52,000 acres of wetlands;
  • Habitat for state and federal endangered species, including bald eagle, common loon, osprey, gray wolf, and a host of state-listed plant species and communities;
  • 23,338 acres in fee of adjacent land and inholdings to The Nature Conservancy’s existing nature preserve in the Big Two Hearted River watershed.
  • Important natural features like unique old-growth hemlock gorges and high-elevation peatland-forest ecosystems;
  • 30,000 acres of adjacent buffer and inholdings to Hiawatha National Forest;
  • 27,000 acres of adjacent buffer and inholdings to Ottawa National Forest; and
    Approximately 100,000 acres of adjacent buffer and inholdings to various State Forests.

Our Conservation Strategy

The largest single land protection project in state history and one of the largest projects in The Nature Conservancy’s 54-year history in 29 countries, the Northern Great Lakes Forest Project protects 271,338 acres stretching across eight counties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. By adopting an innovative "working lands" approach to conservation, this Project not only provides the people of Michigan with the permanent protection of some of our state’s most treasured landscapes, but also helps protect thousands of timber and tourism jobs that working families in the area rely on for their livelihoods. More specifically, the Project:

  • Keeps the land in private ownership and on the local tax rolls;
  • Ensures that the land will remain open to the public for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and other outdoor recreation activities;
  • Allows for continued timber harvesting according to the standards established by a widely recognized sustainable forestry certification program; and
  • Limits development and protects environmentally sensitive forest land from fragmentation and conversion to non-forest uses.

With help from Govenors John Engler and Jennifer Granholm, as well as several Michigan foundations, TNC purchased a working forest conservation easement on roughly 248,000 acres and acquired outright 23,338 acres in the Big Two Hearted River watershed (Luce County) from The Forestland Group, LLC. The timberlands investment firm, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., bought the land at a 2002 auction.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

The Northern Great Lakes Forest Project affects the State of Michigan in several ways.

  • Sustainable Forestry: In addition to protecting large tracts of Upper Peninsula forestland from fragmentation and conversion to non-forest uses, the conservation agreement will assure that current and future owners of the land may continue to harvest timber, thus keeping the land "working" and contributing to the local economy. The forest products industry is the largest job provider in the Upper Peninsula, and the land subject to the conservation easement is a major source of round wood for area mills. Assuring that the forests are protected and may continue to be sustainably harvested in the future is an important and substantial benefit to the long-term health of the region’s economy.
  • To ensure that the economic benefits of continued timber production do not jeopardize the conservation goals of the project, the conservation easement includes strong safeguards that will assure any timber production conducted will meet independent (and auditable) standards for sustainable forestry. Under the easement, current and future owners must maintain sustainable forest certification under the Forest Stewardship Council, an internationally recognized forest certification program, or adhere to specified forestry guidelines.
  • Limits on Development: The project places significant limits on future development. Specifically, for the land covered by the working forest conservation easement (248,000 acres) not more than 40 single family residences will be permitted, and a total of two forest management facilities (including an office building and a log yard) constructed. Limits are also placed on future development of other compatible uses, like communication towers and wind energy production.
  • Public Access for Outdoor Recreation: The conservation agreement will also enhance the legal rights of the public to access the land for outdoor recreation, and it does so by establishing these public access rights in perpetuity. Under the terms of the conservation easement, access rights are permanently granted for specific recreational uses, including hunting, fishing, snowmobiling along designated trails, and non-motorized boating and canoeing.
  • Impact on State and Local Governments: All the land covered by the working forestry easement will remain in private ownership and on the local tax rolls. This means local communities will continue to receive the full level of current tax payments under the state’s Commercial Forest Reserve Act, an important source of revenue for local government programs and services for area residents. Continued private ownership also means that major conservation and outdoor recreation goals of the State of Michigan can be met without taking on the full costs of public ownership.

Why TNC Selected This Site

By purchasing a working forestry easement on 248,000 acres across the Upper Peninsula, the Conservancy along with the State of Michigan and The Forestland Group, LLC has created the largest conservation corridor in the Midwest by connecting 2 million acres. The project prevents land fragmentation and incompatible development by establishing buffers around major sites such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The Nature Conservancy also purchased 23,338 acres in the Two Hearted watershed from The Forestland Group, LLC called the Two Hearted River Forest Reserve.

A Good Cut The Nature Conservancy is taking a unique approach to restoring forests in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - by cutting them down.