Logging is an industry we can't ignore. Rather, to be successful in preserving forests in the Lake States and particularly in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we need to address the standards of practice by the big timber companies and emphasize the bigger picture which is often absent around the bargaining table. The core-corridor system is a viable industry alternative which embraces the whole picture, not just their piece of the pie.
There is a French proverb which comes to my mind regularly, although it is years since I have read it. There exists an island culture whose identity is based around the highest mountain in the world. To climb the rock and ice cliffs, one must undergo a lifetime of training and adhere to a strict code of law. It is high honor to ascend the many faces and levels of this mountain.
A man is banished temporarily from climbing and spends his punishment in the village below. His crime? Killing an old rock rat to feed himself after days without food. One law forbids the taking of any life, plant or animal, beyond a certain level of the mountain. How the council knew he killed the rat is unknown. After a heavy three year penance, the man is able to climb again. Beginning his ascent, a magnificent avalanche strikes, destroying trails, bridges and causing great destruction to the mountains and valleys. The man is summoned before the council again to learn they hold him responsible for the cause of the avalanche.
The verdict explains the old rock rat's importance to the entire ecosystem of that bioregion. The absence of that old rat, killed three years prior, affected the bee and grub population that pollinated plant life and so goes the council's detailed explanation. (Mt. Analogue by Rene Dumaul).
The system of balance and order that is maintained in the natural world is subtle to the busy world into which the human race has propelled itself. Because our society's emphasis is towards commerce and industrialization, the natural world is often overlooked or over-developed in the traditional mode of dominating and conquering. It is only when a species is near extinction that we, as a culture, are reminded of its importance in the overall scheme of balance and order. Even then, the voice that calls out attention is often quiet in contrast to bulldozers and conventions.
Change is continuous and adaptation is one of the mechanisms nature has given all of her creatures. Yet against pressures of overpopulation, urban and rural sprawl and world-wide pollution, the biodiversity of fragile ecosystems is threatened.
Northern Lower Michigan has many people on the run in search of places less marred by civilization. "Go North!" There is a kind of land within our Great Lakes Watershed which contains a romantic image of lions and tigers and bears. Maybe we should say bear, moose and wolves; all which have been reintroduced to this wilderness called the the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The truth is most land north of the Mackinaw Bridge was clear-cut during the 1800's and woodland available for recreational use or as resource utilization today, is all second growth succession. A few stands of infamous virgin timber stretch to the heavens and they are so large around, two bears hugging the trunk could barely meet claw to claw. But these stands remain only because of their inaccessibility in the early logging days or because tracts of land are designated preservation areas in perpetuity. Modern machinery and a booming timber industry allow for easy harvest of those virgin stands and those private tracts become islands farther between the next one.
Precious land untainted from human development provides a home for plant, bird, and animal life often found on the Endangered Species list. These creatures usually need vast spaces to move about and to raise their families. Sensitive plant life requires a specific environment to grow and that environment is extremely scarce.
A reserve system called "core-corridor" consists of interconnected and biologically unique core areas of land. The "core" or the interior is a fixed preserve of acreage including rare species. Surrounding the interior is an edge where two different types of habitat meet. The corridors are physical connections between reserve areas providing migration space for plant and animal life. This concept is instrumental in the preservation of habitat for species biodiversity. Forest areas in the Upper Peninsula previously exempted from harvest are now subject to radical change which threatens the ability of many species to survive in a limited domain.
After controversy in the area (the old loggers versus environmentalists ball game), NWR is approaching Mead, Champion and Longyear to call a one year moratorium, establishing a core-corridor reserve system connecting the Mulligan watershed with two of the most pristine and relatively undisturbed preserves of the land the Nation has to boast. The McCormick Tract exists to the southwest: wild in its most glorious form. Quietly to the northeast, the private Huron Mountain Club provides another vast land preserve on the shores of Lake Superior. The Mulligan runs right between them.
The bottom line pulls the continuing struggle of economics versus preservation. As Gayle Coyer of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Council puts it, "Trees will grow back. A desirable cutting price will attract future markets if the trees are left to follow natural succession and with proper management."
Logging is an industry we can't ignore. Rather, to be successful in preserving forests in the Lake States and particularly in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we need to address the standards of practice by the big timber companies and emphasize the bigger picture which is often absent around the bargaining table. The core-corridor system is a viable industry alternative which embraces the whole picture, not just their piece of the pie. Vision Sessions involving a wildlands mapping of the Upper Peninsula is another way U.P. environmentalists are beginning to offer assistance in the management planning sessions.
If the three timber companies implement their program as proposed for the Mulligan Watershed Basin, irrevocable damage to endangered habitat will cause the loss of many plants and animals the state can currently boast as residents. And the Mulligan is not the only piece of land with wildlife in need of a voice to speak up in Lansing or D.C. There are other forest lands owned by the state which are subject to major habitat alteration not only in the Upper Peninsula, but in Lower Michigan as well.
Tucked against rock cliffs in this Mulligan Watershed, the Jungwirth family resides in close proximity to the natural cycles of survival. Their dependence on town twenty miles away lessens each year they brave another winter or relish in another summer's bounty. When I approached them in February 1996 to learn what first hand changes were noticeable from the first logging round last summer, I didn't have to question much to hear the account of the neighborhood moose. The two boys 10 and 12, delighted in sharing the adventure of skiing right past a moose a few days prior to my visit.
"It was really neat because we have never seen a moose so close to our home (within a mile). We want to go out and look for it again to see if it is still around. Not being familiar with them, we don't know their migration or feeding patterns," expressed the whole family.
They agreed it was another sign of the logging already begun a few miles up the valley from the summer before. Animals are on the move. Noise from logging equipment and from the explosion of recreational snowmobiling disturbs once serene wooded and mountainous habitat.
Victoria Jungwirth, lives with her two sons and husband. She has a small business, making wildcrafted botanicals from carefully selected local herbs and plants. After years of careful gathering, she is now running into problems finding plants in accessible areas that are pollution free and not destroyed by the new roads built to accommodate logging equipment. "Tread lightly upon the earth is not a concept for the management plan designers nor the folks that are executing such programs," she said shaking her head. She was quick to add insight on the normal fluctuating cycles of plant life, but saw these changes determinant on the extremes imposed upon the environment at this time.
"Insects and fire were nature's way of handling overpopulation and other imbalances in the system. However, massive selective and clear cutting efforts chase away species and inhibit the growth of other varieties due to scars left upon the land. Roads for instance."
The boys quickly picked up the cue and shared their observations of the roads "ripping the earth apart and how awful the stumps look." As a homeschool family, science lessons easily abound from daily observations. The moose sighting is a lesson that begins to explore more than wildlife habitat and migration, leading to probing questions of why such assaults to the Earth are worthy in the overall scheme of society's progression. "Deep forest creatures like the wolves and wren and fisher disappear and other things appear like deer, pine martin and blueberries which isn't always so bad," admits the smiling 10 year old.
Their observations are valid. Logging may bring in a new market of habitat like deer which falls into another commerce sector of the state's income through hunting licences. However, the roads never go away. Rather they open up land to recreational use, to developers and to more human species that don't always understand or respect the natural course of those that lived there before we came trudging along as tourist enthusiasts and neighborhood associations. Roads also act as a boundary for animals. They slice territories in half and cause havoc to more than plant life. To amphibians that absorb moisture or anything else (e.g. salt, toxins, etc.) they rub their little bodies on, roads can be devastating. The results of mass timbering campaigns from the early part of the century are still observable. Timber harvesting in Michigan continues as one of the state's top industries. Modern society has hardly reduced its need for paper products, building materials for large single family homes or other tree resource materials. How can we balance supply and demand when the Earth's biodiversity is seen only in terms of profitable gain?
Institutes across the country are interested in techniques to develop eco-sensitive strategies in logging practices, questioning the traditional implementation of logging practices and the legislative enforcement of conservation standards and preservation protection for species and quality of environment. Additionally, there are forestry programs that educate men and women on the ways of the woods. The challenge for them is understanding and effectively managing the situation before us created by former human intervention to the natural system and confronting responsible ways to balance loss and over abundance.
Eric Brandon, a registered Forester, explains the process of selective marking for timber sale and the importance of encouraging stronger successional return to benefit not only future markets, but also to strengthen sustainability within the watershed for biodiversity to do more than survive. The foresters decide where the loggers cut, so as Brandon puts it, the future of conservation implementation hinges on humans' attitudes: "A man's got to have it in his mind that he wants to be a good steward of the land, because otherwise, even with all the legalities, one can still destroy incredible pieces of land and the surrounding watershed and habitats without the attention of local, state or national enforcement."
As an example, a Salvage Rider Revisions Bill was passed in 1995, permitting the State of Michigan (Forest Service) to enter into previously protected forest land and designate trees as "dead, dying or associated trees" which would then be exempt from compliance to environmental protection laws and readily available for sale. In most cases, the state land was too costly to harvest, but the change in the law creates greater appeal for timber companies to bid on "dead, dying or associated trees" and opens up a new market for the industry. While there is legislative repeal on this bill, since it is attached to the Farm Bill it becomes easier to escape the eye of environmental lobbyists who spend most of their time these days revoking the environmental injustice done in 1995.
There is an argument in many heavily forested areas relating jobs with cutting trees. "The problem with this system", says Marvin Roberson, Sierra Club Activist, "is the United States is selling their timber to the Asian countries who can't buy it fast enough. They, in turn hire a domestic workforce to process all the lumber with more traditional Asian equipment. The industry in America threatens job security but really, the bulk of the jobs travels across the sea with the wood." Americans are left sitting on a stump in an empty field looking at each other afraid to admit maybe the environmentalist community wasn't out to lunch like most of Washington D.C. portrays. After all, businesses and government officials representing industry have only money and power to gain and we, all of us, have the spectacular array of interwoven biodiversity to lose.
The State, on the other hand, promotes logging for two reasons: the high market value of Michigan's woodland and because aspen in natural succession, is prime deer habitat. Deer hunting is another major market for the state, nevermind deer overpopulation and TB epidemic problems.
To grasp an understanding of native species and how they have survived within that system of checks and balances opens a deeper appreciation for the complexity of nature. Once an element of the chain is broken it has a ripple effect as catastrophic as an avalanche seen within that fictitious mountain culture. The native ecosystem has been disturbed. Elements are forever lost; however, a regeneration process occurs, both naturally and through a planned management program.
There are reports that the count of some endangered species is on the rise. This is great news and something we need to point out to our officials. This is just the beginning, not the end, of years of environmental protection advocacy. The local chapter of the Sierra Club began the Bioforestry Program a year ago to encourage through education and hands-on experience, citizens--you and me--to become more actively involved with forestry issues at the policy making level. For more information you may contact The Sierra Club at 300 N. Washington Sq. Ste. 411 Lansing, MI 48933 or call 517-484-2372.
The responsibility to preserve ecosystems and their vast biodiversity falls to each one of us. In relationship to the timber industry and the effects it has on some of the state's most unique wilderness areas, it would be a crying shame to let commerce once again, override the importance of the Earth's natural systems and the interconnect-edness of all of her species. Unlike the culture of Mt. Analogue, we do not have a higher council here on Earth who oversees the moral good and delicate balance of all species within our entire system. This is where we must do our best to tread lightly upon the Earth, be conscious of the life that existed in our areas before human development, and seek justice through citizen and civil agencies that protect the environmental quality of the planet we too, call home.
For more information on the environmental protection programs in the Upper Peninsula, contact the UPEC PO Box 847 Marquette, MI 49855 or the Northwoods Wilderness Recovery PO Box 122 Marquette, MI 49855.
Kima Kraimer is free-lance writer currently residing in the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed.
Return to the Index of Synapse 35, Spring Equinox 1996