Big UP Deal anniversary event.
UP Deal Anniversary Big UP Deal anniversary event. © Jason Whalen


The Nature Conservancy Restores and Protects Upper Peninsula Forests

TNC exchanges land with Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Lansing, MI

The Nature Conservancy and Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources traded approximately 3,720 acres of land in the Two-Hearted River Watershed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula earlier this year, completing a project 15 years in the making.

“It’s exciting to see so many years of hard work come to fruition,” said Helen Taylor, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. “We’re thrilled to have been able to work with the DNR and look forward to more opportunities in the future.”

TNC first acquired more than 23,000 acres of working forestland in 2005 as part of the Northern Great Lakes Forest Project, or “Big U.P. Deal,” the largest single conservation project in state history. Since then, more than 1,000 acres have been added, creating the Two Hearted River Forest Reserve as it is known today.

As part of the Big U.P. Deal, TNC and the DNR anticipated additional land exchanges that would allow both parties to consolidate ownership and manage their land more easily in the future. For TNC, these exchanges would contribute to site continuity, which helps wildlife by connecting migration pathways and other habitat that flora and fauna depend on to thrive.

“Swapping land can be mutually beneficial for the state and private landowners like TNC because it helps improve the overall land ownership portfolio of both parties while at the same time improving the logistics and costs of land management,” said Keith Magnusson, DNR Unit Manager in Newberry. “This swap made sense, and it will provide benefits for the DNR, TNC and the public well into the future.”

TNC chose to work in the Two-Hearted River Watershed because of its diverse, high quality land and water systems, Taylor said.

Within the watershed, TNC is practicing sustainable timber harvesting techniques and informing scientific studies on effective forest management. One sustainable harvest technique that is being implemented is selective cutting to open the forest canopy and allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor. These selective harvests are being tested to see how much TNC managers can increase age and species diversity within the forest, thereby increasing the forest’s resilience to disease, pests and future climate change. 

“It is our aim to restore much of the forest’s original bio-diversity in the Two-Hearted River Forest Reserve,” Taylor said.  “Our inventories of the property indicate the other species are there, and we are confident we can manage in a manner that will restore robust, healthy populations of many species.”

TNC is also committed to supporting the local communities that depend upon the forests for jobs. Sustainably harvesting timber helps to stimulate the local economy as shown in the TNC produced video “A Good Cut.”

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

The Two Hearted Forest Reserve is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the only global forest certification system whose standards for responsible forest management encompass conservation, social and business values. This certification is designed so consumers can recognize products from sustainably managed forests.  All of the lands acquired from the MDNR in this latest “swap” will be assessed and added to the FSC certification.

“If people want to know how they can help the forests, they should look for the FSC mark on products because that means they were produced using sustainably harvested forest materials,” Taylor said.

For more information about how TNC is managing forest resiliency in Michigan, visit

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.