Great Lakes

Certifying the Northern Forests

The forests of the Great Lakes, often lovingly known as the “northwoods,” cap northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and march into Canada. In total, the northwoods encompass more than 51 million acres of forest. They are the home to iconic species such as moose and wolf as well as many less-recognized species like blackburnian warbler and olive-sided flycatcher.

“These forests harbor the highest density of breeding populations of neotropical migratory birds. The birds fly all the way from Central and South America to breed in our forests during the summer months,” explains Matt Dallman, the Conservancy’s conservation director for Wisconsin.

The Great Lakes forests support human communities, too. From lumberjacks to furniture makers, thousands of our neighbors annually produce millions of dollars’ worth of products. In fact, anyone will encounter a multitude of wood-related products in a daily routine, from printed materials and paper products to buildings and homes.

Walk into any furniture store, and you’re faced with a plethora of choices of materials, fabrics and designs. Not only are price or style determining factors in your buying decision, you may also think about where the raw materials come from and what effect you are having when you vote with your wallet.

While it may seem a good-conscience choice to buy products made without natural materials, the production used to create man-made materials may be causing more harm than good. For example, one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gasses is manufacturing cement—not air travel, and not deforestation. Cement plants contribute up to five percent carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Recent advancements in building materials have made it possible to construct more structures out of wood, even skyscrapers, that can reduce the emissions from making cement while sequestering the carbon in wood.

Certifying Forests

“Furniture, buildings and products made from wood are an environmentally responsible consumer choice, if they come from a forest that was sustainably managed and harvested,” said Rich Bowman, government relations director for the Conservancy in Michigan and a forestry leader in the Conservancy’s Great Lakes Project. “Forest certification is an effective management tool for the forest industry and a visible identifier for consumers to make better buying choices.”

Becoming certified in forest management practices demonstrates a real commitment on the part of a landowner. When a forest is certified by the The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), forest managers must adhere to a strict set of guidelines and measures to ensure the diversity and protection of future forests. FSC certification ensures that forests are managed responsibly for their environmental, social and economic benefits.

“We feel that the FSC certification system has created indicators and principles that ensure good, sound, biodiversity-focused forest practices, while still maintaining the productivity of our working forests. We’re really pushing to certify as much land as possible,” said Tina Hall, the Conservancy’s director of land resources in Michigan.

In addition to state forest lands undergoing certification, the Conservancy also participates in FSC certification at its Two Hearted River Forest Reserve in Michigan. The lessons learned on this 24,412-acre reserve have helped to promote the FSC certification strategy.

“It’s imperative that forest managers think about more than just a tree stand’s ability to produce ‘boards and cords’,” explains Matt. “We want landowners to be thinking about the forest as a biological system and asking how their management choices will impact the health and sustainability of these forests. Certification is the way to ensure that type of thinking happens.”

Taking a Forest’s “Pulse”

The Conservancy isn’t relying on FSC certification alone to protect Great Lakes forests. Staff are also working on new tools and best management practices to help landowners make more informed management decisions. Conservancy biologists have identified a set a metrics any forester can gather called KEAs, or Key Ecological Attributes, to assess the general health of a forest.

“Basically, KEAs take the blood pressure and pulse of a forest,” elaborated Tina.

Another tool that has been developed is used specifically to assess the forests susceptibility to climate variability. Like KEAs, CIMs (Climate Informed Metrics) take tree stand data collected by foresters in the field and analyze it to determine the likelihood that a stand may experience above-normal mortality due to a changing climate. This type of analysis is critical when making management decisions about species that live for decades.

“The United States Forest Service and some natural resources departments are now using our software,” Tina noted. “But, regardless of the software or tools they use, we want to encourage people to think about how to manage for a healthier forest and longer term risks, like climate change.”

What Can You Do?

“The best way everyone can help us get more land certified is to educate yourself on FSC products and begin to value and demand them,” Tina said. “You’d be surprised how many household products are certified. Check your own home: Do you have disposable diapers? Kleenex? These products are often FSC-certified, so look for the FSC logo when shopping.”

The Conservancy is ready to help private forest landowners that are interested in exploring FSC certification on their own property.

Manage your land in a way that encourages a high diversity of native species and as wide of a range of ages of species as possible. These management choices will give forests the extra edge they need to be resilient over time,” explained Tina.

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