MSU researchers explore northern hardwoods

Michigan
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Pine and fir trees by Lake Tahoe in stormy spring day with snow on the distant Sierra Nevada Mountains

A major study on northern hardwoods has been undertaken to better understand management systems for these forests.

Northern hardwoods are forests dominated by tree species such as sugar maple, red maple, basswood, hemlock, and yellow birch.

High-quality sugar maple trees command high prices and nearly a quarter of all Michigan wildlife use these forests for at least a portion of their habitat.

Foresters have, collectively, spent hundreds of years thinning and improving the quality of these forests.

However, they’re not regenerating well, and not with the desired level of tree diversity.

Decades of deer overbrowsing and exotic pests like the emerald ash borer have not helped.

Now, researchers at Michigan State University are trying to learn how to increase the sustainability and diversity of these trees.

To develop a new model for northern hardwood management, the partners have fired up one of the largest studies of its kind in history.

There are 142, 30-acre research plots across the northern Lower Peninsula to the far Western Upper Peninsula.

Three alternative regeneration techniques are deployed: seed trees, shelterwood, and gap selection.

The seed tree method is a clear-cut except for six to eight selected trees per acre that serve as a seed source for the next forest.

A shelterwood harvest will remove up to 50 percent of the canopy to allow a very specific amount of light to encourage desired tree species.

Gap silviculture creates small gaps in the forest canopy to encourage increased tree diversity among the regeneration.

Some sites will use machinery on the soil to provide a better seed bed and to discourage competing vegetation.

Researchers and technicians are monitoring deer browse levels and other wildlife components using 250 motion-activated cameras among other methods.

On some plots, loggers are providing a barrier to deer browsing.

This monumental project will last till at least 2026 so a large amount of data can be collected in order to better determine what can be changed.

Northern Hardwoods cover more than five million acres. That’s larger than all the state forests and about a quarter of all the forestland in Michigan.

This forest type is the most common in Michigan and researchers hope to make management recommendations to move these forests in a sustainable direction.

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