Tree keepers: Where sustaining the forest is a tribal tradition

Tree keepers: Where sustaining the forest is a tribal tradition

Fred Pearce writes:

Mike Lohrengel looks up in awe at trees he has known for 30 years. “This is one of the most beautiful places I know. This forest has it all: the most species, the most diversity. Many trees I know individually. Look at this one behind us. It’s got a split way up there. I’ll never forget that tree till I die.”

It is a love affair, for sure. But Lohrengel is no tree-hugger, out to preserve a special, pristine place. He is a timber harvest administrator, overseeing logging in one of the most remarkable working forests in the United States — nearly a quarter-million acres of trees that occupy almost the entire Menominee Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin.

“The forest looks pristine,” he says, as a flurry of snow falls through the open canopy. “These big maples and basswoods are around 150 years old. But we have been logging here for over a century, and we still have more trees than when we started.” In June, the tribe’s forestry officials began exploring the potential for selling the carbon accumulating in the forest on the U.S.’s growing market for carbon-offset credits.

There are probably more than a billion trees today in the Menominee forest, which is an hour’s drive west of Lake Michigan. We were there in late February, the day after the biggest snowstorm of the winter. We were standing near the Menominee’s sawmill in Neopit village, from where trucks move the lumber across America to make everything from basketball courts to domestic furniture and hand-crafted toys. But even close to the mill, big healthy trees with the highest potential price tag get to grow old.

The trick, says Lohrengel, is husbandry for the long term. “We come in every 15 years, take out the weak trees, the sick trees, and the ones that are dying, but leave the healthy stock to grow some more and reproduce,” he says. “We don’t plant anything. This is all natural regeneration, and the way we do it the forest just gets better and better.” [Continue reading…]

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