Monday, December 17, 2007

Michigan's UP Becoming Less Wild and Free

rolling road
Michigan's wild UP
photo from Michigan Technical University report
Whether Yoopers or Trolls (those who live north of the Mackinac Bridge, or "under" it), Michiganders love the wildness of the vast undeveloped forests of the Upper Peninsula.

Central to all that is the UP are its forests: vast tracts of forestlands that are the linchpins of the region’s economy, natural resources and rugged identity.

Yet in 2005 and 2006 a million acres of privately owned UP forest changed hands. The Upper Peninsula’s unique identity could be changing as commercial forest ownership changes signal a break with the past, according to a report released December 12 by university researchers and conservation groups in Michigan.

For the past century the typical large landowner in the UP was directly tied to forest products industries (vertically integrated timber product companies). Now the largest holders of UP forests are Timber investment management organizations and real estate investment trusts. What this means is that economic considerations will drive use rather than sustainability.

Of particular concern in the report are "higher and better use" forestlands- those in proximity to assets such as lakes, rivers and roads. These locations might become more prone to parcelization than under previous owners.

"Our research shows that the sprawling forest tracts that have long been part of the UP’s allure are already getting smaller and more fragmented," said Robert Froese, of the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University. "Lands along Great Lakes shoreline and along streams and rivers are increasingly owned by small private interests and therefore less accessible to the public." Typically, once ownership patterns head down this path public access becomes more limited.

The report offers 22 recommendations, grouped under four strategies, to maintain sustainable ownership and management of the UP’s forests while encouraging economic, recreational and conservation opportunities. The recommendations range from policy initiatives and education at the local and state levels to economic stimuli for forest products and industries.

The report, "Large-tract Forestland Ownership Change: Land Use, Conservation and Prosperity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula" is a cooperative venture of Michigan Technological University, Michigan State University, the Michigan Environmental Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation & Development Council. The project was funded by People and Land, a program of the Kellogg Foundation administered by the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University.

news release of the Michigan Environmental Council, "Tradition of public access to UP forests threatened by ownership changes", Dec 12, 2007
See the full report: "Large-tract Forestland Ownership Change: Land Use, Conservation and Prosperity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula", a 54 page pdf document
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