MAEAP…MAEAP

 

Every-time I use the acronym MAEAP…I think of the roadrunner cartoon “MAEAP MAEAP”!

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has had a Michigan’s Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program- MAEAP program in place for many years to honor farmers who are environmentally friendly; recently in the past year they have added a forestry component.  Forest, Wetland & Habitat- geared towards farmers and private landowners who have one, two, or all three of these components on their property.  Many farmers have woodlots and can add it to their list of verified components.  Farmers and landowners go through risk assessments at their own pace and when they meet all the high risk (erosion, chemicals, ect.) they can become verified.  It is a voluntary program, and is confidential. I was given permission by my landowner to talk about it.  Being a forester under the MDARD umbrella, we took on the forestry part, while the MAEAP technicians focused on the agriculture parts.

When first learning of this new program, I immediately knew who fit the bill for it.  To be apart of it, you really have to be “one” with your land and active on it, and willing to keep up with it.

Norm, young at heart, has been following the words and wisdom of Aldo Leopold.  When he was younger he read Aldo Leopold’s, Sand County Almanac and was inspired and it has never left him. He spent two weeks in Baraboo, Wisconsin at the family shack, learning the ways and Aldo’s legacy. When I first met Norm, back shortly after I started here, he was just looking for direction to update his management plan.  I figured it would be another typical walk through the woods, chatting about deer management, and a quick referral.  To my surprise, I was wrong! We sat down that first day and he showed me the plans he had written for the last 20 years, his records of his control for invasive species (Autumn olive) and other activities he had done.  He has records for putting his property into a conservation easement and the real kicker is his mission statement.  While reading his mission statement, again inspired by Leopold, I was brought to tears. It is not often I meet someone with the same values as I. I was humbled and overwhelmed by what he had written YEARS ago. A holistic approach for sustainability of all parts of the land. I collected myself and we took a tour of the property….

As we toured the property, Norm pointed out the some 60,000 trees he planted- most by hand and some by machinery. He took an old abandoned farm and turned it into a nature paradise. He put up signs with species and dates, not only for him to remember the date but for his grand kids when they inherit the property. He has his hardwoods stands marked by color for easier tree ID for them as well.  Norm is an organic farmer with fruit trees and bees and provides ample habitat with 10 wood duck houses, buffer zones along his wetlands and has even restored his section of the Cedar River back to a blue ribbon stream for great trout fishing! That first tour, I left feeling a sense of calm and happiness.

Now, trying to get a hold of Norm is not always the easiest- because he spends 7 days a week out at the property managing it, so either I have to drop by or wait for a call- but the wait is always worth it! Because, I was so inspired by Norm, I knew I had to take everyone and anyone out there whenever I could. He was always ready to share his story with anyone who would listen.  I took a group out there to verify his property with MAEAP, and just recently took a group of landowners out there for a field tour on managing your woodlot. EVERY SINGLE PERSON, left there thanking him and thanking me for allowing them to experience such beauty.

He has even been Conservationist of the Year and Tree Farmer of the year! Norms.jpg

Advertisements

Check out that Norway!

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”        – Warren Buffett

Do you ever sit under a tree and think about how it got there?  Was it a volunteer, meaning did it naturally regenerate and grow there? Or did someone years ago, maybe decades ago plant it?  Did someone take the time to dig a hole and plant a seedling tree- hoping that one day it will grow up big and strong in hopes that someone sits under it and wonders or that wildlife is enriched by all the trees benefits.  Seriously…how did it get there, what has the tree seen, what kind of tree is it even!? If only trees could talk; the stories they would tell! Would you take the time to listen?

A few days ago I had a couple stop by the office carrying a large garbage bag and inside was a tree branch! They began to tell me about the tree and how they had 35 acres of these trees! I looked at it, felt the needles and said well “its a spruce, but I do not want to give exact species without seeing them”.  They had told me that the previous owner planted some 13,000 of these for a Christmas Tree Farm, but passed and the wife did not keep up with it so they just grew.  I did not want to confirm the exact species because partly I wanted to see these trees in real life and because I was not 100% certain on it, I told them I did not want to say white spruce and be wrong, in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t.  It was very bright green..but all I could think was black or white spruce for holiday trees but I just had a feeling it wasn’t because the branching and the pure green color.  In the back of my mind I am thinking can this really be a Norway Spruce and is just a young or upper branch?  But, Norway is not a common holiday tree here…  This was a brain teaser at best! I could not get it off my mind, so I talked it out with a friend…walking through all the trees it could be.

Anywho, so as I drove through the muddy back-roads to their property, it hit me like a cold snowball in the face and I yelled (all alone in my truck) I KNEW IT!! As I pulled into their driveway I had the biggest smile on my face because right in front of me, plain as day, rows and rows and rows of NORWAY SPRUCE!!!  I met up with the landowners and said, I am so happy I did not let you leave my office without setting up a visit-because these are Norway Spruce.  In shock we began to walk towards the trees and I explained how Norway’s branches droop down.  I have never seen a plantation of these species before, I was in awe.  It was a beautiful day, reaching 64 degrees Fahrenheit but when we walked into the trees it dropped roughly 10 degrees!  This beautiful, green carpet of trees stand tall all because some 26 years ago a gentleman decided to plant 13,000 trees!

Next time you pass a tree on a walk/run/bike or sit under one to cool down and take in its shady canopy take a moment to think- how did it get there? What has it seen? What species of tree is it?  If you do not know what species of tree it is, take a picture or note things about it and go that extra step to look it up!

Thank that tree for Clean Air

 

 

Let Mother Nature Take Her Course

“The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been waiting quite some time to be able to start with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I have finally been inspired by a landowner where it fit- on top of his bucket list was being able to escape the trifles of life and live surrounded by nature and being within the trees.  Recently retired he was able to finally escape the hustle and bustles of work and live out his life long dream of trees and wildlife! There is pure comfort in being able to know what you do to positively impacts the land.  This landowner was searching for all the right education to better sustain his property for the future all all wildlife that lives among it; even the families of squirrels!  Not many landowners I meet care for the squirrels!! Go Squirrels!

This landowner had just purchased the property and called me up a couple weeks prior to our visit very concerned about what previous landowners had done with logging it.  He is not against logging, but was very concerned with how it looked “butchered”.  I pulled up curious of why he was concerned…I saw no immediate concerns.  We began to talk about the property, a bit of history, and I simple said “I think it looks great”.  He took a stutter step backwards and had a huge smile on his face! He told me I made his day, I said great my work is done and jokingly acted like I was going to leave! He began to explain how this is his life’s dream, his top of the bucket list adventure, his true passion.  He was so incredibly worried about the forest and purely wanted to know everything he could do to make it better, was geared up to learn and do everything in his power to make it sustainable. We chatted about the basics- he has oaks so I filled him in on oak wilt and Asian- longhorn beetle for his maples.

We began our trek through the forest, well the sprouting of a new forest! I began to explain to him about how great it looked, you could see the baby red and white oaks covering the ground and the maples sprouting like crazy! He asked what he needed to do with everything and my answer for everything was “just let nature takes its course”.  Forests have been doing their thing for many years before us so they know what best to do naturally.  Now, if he did not have the ample regeneration he had, we would have been compiling a planting plan! Instead, we discussed adding fruit trees, hazelnut trees and some pines around the property lines for edge to enhance for wildlife and biodiversity. Forest land is so fragmented, split into parcels and one way to help wildlife feel safe in an area is to have forest edge and enclosure.

Just let Mother Nature do her thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Debate

Don’t judge a tree by it’s bark.

Winter months can be difficult when trying to identify trees, many of us rely on leaves to figure out the species.  When you get really good you can tell by the bark, buds and branching.  I will be the first to admit, and I have been doing this for some time, I am not always 100% confident.  Relying on bark alone in the dormant periods of deciduous trees can be deceiving; depending on their site conditions they can sometimes have varying bark.  Aspen on a nutrient rich site can be a bit different than an aspen on a wet or poor site.

I was out on a site visit hoping not to freeze or get stuck in the snow!! I know this landowner well so it was an enjoyable game of who can stump who the most! We would find trees that didn’t look like their typical format and quiz each other.  Seeing how it was his property and he was very knowledgeable of trees he did most the quizzing.

A couple hours into our stroll we came across this grey, smooth, hard bark of a tree…I said hey what’s this (thinking I know exactly what it is) he hadn’t a clue so I said ironwood.  Immediately, he disagreed and began to correct me! We then came across his idea of and ironwood tree  in had to laugh not actually knowing get the species he was pointing out! Mine being smooth tight grey bark and his light brown shaggy bark, one of us was terribly wrong!  We analyzed both put trees up and down, taking photos, noting the catkins on the one, the branching…all bets are on!!! We finished out stroll, hugging trees of beauty and made it back to truck.  This was not over, after carefully looking our trees up in the several books in my car we discovered we were both correct!! What?!  Both trees part of the birch family are considered ironwood- American Hornbeam with smooth bark and Easter Hophornbeam with the shaggy bark!

 

Nature… The Storyteller for Generations

If you look past the products I can make for you and dig deep into my roots…you will see my story. –The Forest

Forests are not only a means to an end.  We sometimes forget that a forest is more than a group of trees that can make us money, or a habitat that will bring us the largest buck at hunting season, or a place to gather firewood, which are great too. However, Forests have stories too, if we think about the bigger picture in many cases and look beyond what is currently standing there we can begin to unravel what may have been before those trees we see now.

I had the opportunity to meet a landowner who has already done this.  He already looked past the current state of his woodlot and can now picture the men years and years ago logging off the white pine in Clare County.  His property is unique in its history for Michigan because it is a major landing ground for the logging done back in the 1870’s.  To this day you can still see where the old railroad track was; ties are still being found on the property and you can still see where men physically dug holes along skid trails to make a flat trail so they could haul logs by horse and not tip.  It was humbling and yet crazy to stand there and picture all those years ago men doing all this work.  Its rare to stand somewhere and really be able to picture what was going on hundreds of years ago. To this day, you can also see the old stumps of harvested white pines throughout the property- which leads to this landowner’s theory on more history to his property.

There is a drop off along the one edge/ corner of his property where you can see where stumps are then at the bottom of the hill there are no stumps to be found.  So we can only speculate that the amount of pine down the hill was not great enough for them to harvest and drag back up the hill.  There are still white pines down there- very large ones- that are assumed by the owners to be “virgin” pines! Ones left behind by the loggers back in the 1870’s because they were not worth it.  We walked around and looked at them, they could easily be 150+ years old!

Going back to just looking at the trees however, I was also blown away.  When this landowner approached me he said his property is one I HAVE to see.  He had read my blog and got the idea that I love forests and am a tree hugger.  Not a crazy assumption, he was totally right.  He began to tell me about how he has veneer size aspen and oaks.  Okay, I have see some nice aspen trees in my day- but the one monster of a tree I saw on his, had even me drooling! Normally when aspen starts to hit maturity it gets hypoxlyn canker or other diseases and decay.  Not this one, it stood tall and beautiful, took my breath away. I stood next to it and looked to the sky to see it standing straight and tall into the beautiful blue sky. Truly amazing!

I go on many site visits (beauty of my work) and every single one has something unique and beautiful to share.

Next time you are out in the forest…look past the trees and shrubs and think about the bigger picture.  Think about how it became a forest, where it came from, the history. 

I am more than just a group of trees…I am a story. –The Forest

A maple and Oak- grown together in harmony :)
A maple and Oak- grown together in harmony 🙂
Amazing ground view of the Aspen
Amazing ground view of the Aspen
Theory of the "Virgin" White Pine
Theory of the “Virgin” White Pine

Black Walnut- Friend or Foe?

A highly valued tree; but at what cost?

When I was a kid, I would always go over to the neighbors yard because they had large trees that we could climb.  One of the trees was a black walnut, back then that was all I knew about the tree.  I knew it was a walnut tree and that it would drop these big green things and squirrels would hide them for later!

Black Walnut, Juglans nigra, is highly valued for its fine grained dark wood, used often for furniture. It is also a great food source for wildlife.  While it may provide beautiful veneer wood it also provides a natural herbicide called juglone.  Juglone is found in almost all the tissue parts of a black walnut tree, just in different concentration.  The highest concentration can be found in the fruit, the fleshy green layer of the walnut, with 100.  Like mentioned, the juglone is a natural herbicide produced by black walnuts so this is where the foe part comes in.  It prohibits new growth of certain plants, trees, shrubs, or flowers around it and if it is grown by already established things it can kill them off.  I recently went to a site visit where this was the case.  The landowner had a hobby farm, where he was growing black walnuts. The trees are doing great however they are now seeing that their plum trees and other surrounding vegetation is dying off.  As leaves, fruit, flowers blow off the tree and land on and near other vegetation they secret the toxic juglone.  It is also in the roots and trunk so it is leeching into the soil.  If the tree is cut down and removed the “herbicide” is still in the soils and can take years for it to be gone depending on the drainage of the soil.  Now, its not all bad, like I mentioned great food source for wildlife and humans like walnuts and it is a great wood for production, just have to be selective of whats around it.  Some plants are tolerant to the juglone and still can be grown.  Some examples of tolerant species include, beans, carrots, corn, black-eyed Susan, morning glory, trillium, Eastern redbud, dogwood, poplar, black raspberry, and soybeans.  There are several other species tolerant.  Most folks do not like black walnut trees because they are messy but now their minds will be blown- messy and toxic! Because of this if they are not out naturally growing in a forest; they are usually use for plantations for nut production or can be a yard tree with selective vegetation around it.

Side note: black walnuts are not the only tree that produce juglone- other members of the Juglandaceae also produce it as well as hickory trees.  Butternut, English walnut, bitternut hickory, pignut hickory, pecan, shagbark hickory, mockernut hickory are the common names of juglone producers!

Peach in decline--about 15 feet from walnut orchard
Peach in decline–about 15 feet from walnut orchard
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) tree with fruit
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) tree with fruit

Well Managed Versus Well Groomed

Being a good steward of the land is not about going through it with a fine toothed comb.

Whether its one acre or one thousand acres of forest land the key is knowing how to manage it.  When looking at a forested property I am looking for- diversity in trees, shrubs, and plants and if there are any water features.  Once I know what the species composition is and if there are any wetlands, creeks or ponds then I already know a great deal about that forested property. By the species present I can get a rough estimate of the type of soils present (well-drained soils or clay) and by the water feature I know if there is change in elevation and also indicates wet soils; meaning different species will likely be present.

Also, by knowing these two things I am able to look at the big picture for best management.  Awhile back I was asked to talk about wildlife habitat while walking through a community forest.  At first, I was pumped, “yeah a walk through talking about attracting wildlife”.  But as we reached the first place to speak, I froze and not just because it was negative 20 that day but because this forest was so groomed over that it was hard to see that bigger picture.  Don’t get me wrong this community forest was beautiful and did attract wildlife with cover and water feature.  However, I am used to walking through a forest with snags, fallen trees and limbs, and at least some ground cover.  Because this forest is well groomed for the public it does not have all these features due to safety reasoning.

Sometime folks get so caught up in trying to keep their property “neat and tidy” they don’t realize its not actually helping promote growth. Without the wildlife habitat spread of seeds decreases, reducing regeneration (not completely but kinda). The opposite of this is just as detrimental, letting a forest just grow, grow, and grow and not manage it at all.  Eventually that forest would all just be mature trees- they would grow old, die and little to no regeneration will happen and forest would be lost, or become a huge fire hazard.  We need to find that middle ground- where management is happening but not too much where the structure or composition of the forest is compromised.  Ahh, the beauty of best management practices!! Now, I could go on and on about this but I feel I have gotten my thoughts across so I will leave with one final thought.

Consult your local forester before doing any major logging, planting, or anything around a wetland; do the research.

See the bigger picture, not just whats right in front of you.