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Marshall Pecore, Menominee Forest Manager:
Menominee history of forest management is a unique blend of people’s conviction and legislation. This long term forest management [on] Menominee seems to demonstrate well here that you can have spiritual rejuvenation, you can have economic base, you can have recreation. The only problem is because we’re more or less an island of timber and an ocean of clear land, we no longer have those big broad state influences of fire and the rest of it. So we have to mimic Mother Nature.
This enhanced satellite photo dramatically illustrates how the 222, 000 acre rectangle of the Menominee Forest differs from the land around it. It is considered the finest example of biodiversity in the entire Great Lakes region. The vision of the elders—seven generations ago, lives and breathes.
Lawrence Waukau, President, Menominee Tribal Enterprises:
We received recently, this past year, from a scientific group in California an award for our environmental and sustained yield management of the forest. For the last 135 years we’ve been marketing timber from this reservation and it’s all been sustained yield. And that’s the way it will continue.
The elders’ beautifully simple idea of long ago to balance harvest with annual growth is an official forestry term now, “sustained yield.”
Back in 1854 when the tribe surveyed their ancestral lands, they estimated that they had one billion, 300 million board feet of timber here. Today we have a billion, 700 million board feet. They’ve cut in volume two and a quarter billion board feet. Plus their diameters and their species composition haven’t changed. What if more of this same land thinking would have been applied on more of that original ancestral land, it would be a very different appearing Northern Wisconsin than from what we know today.
There’s 16 forest cover types that exist in the Lakes states. Menominee has 14 of those forest cover types. It takes hundreds of years to develop a forest and to develop different age structures. A view like this gives you a mosaic of what we have created in the last 135 years of management on Menominee. There are big trees, big pine trees. There are small clear-cuts, small even edge forest, small non-even edge forest. Different height classes support different animals and birds and insects and all the rest of it.
These are the areas where a lot of people come for their spiritual type of rejuvenation because you can look around. It’s very carpet like and soft and quiet in these types of forests. These stands here are what people’s, I think, perceptions of a pristine forest is. We’re in a pine stand that has 100% crown closure. You look at them and you forget that they’re a living organism and that at one time they were seedlings and that they are a living organism and that they are going to die, too. Going to have to make some hard decisions. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, this one happens to be coming to maturity during my tenure here.
Many of Menominee’s magnificent white pines are nearing the end of their growth cycle, but the conditions that created these stands no longer exist. There is no assurance that new white pine will grow up to replace them. Marshall took us to a stand that looked equally magnificent when he was a boy.
The trees are about 200, maybe 190 to 200 years old, in this particular area. If you had time to look around here you’d see stumps all over the place where the trees or root systems where the trees had been blown over or tipped over or salvaged. In 1958 this particular area had 68,000 board feet of white pine here. Today it has somewhere around 18,000 to 10,000 board feet. So the stand has really changed dramatically since 1958. When you look around, hemlock is taking over this, hemlock, beech, and hard maple are taking over this site as the pine die in it. Nothing is static. Everything is cyclic, we’re going around on this plant’s succession. These big trees, they die, they change root, species are coming in to being here.
But the Menominee people love their white pine forests and don’t want all of them to be replaced by other kinds of trees. To fulfill this vision, Marshall looks down rather than up.
Lilly of the Valley is a key indicator for growing white pine. So that’s why we’re putting a lot of effort to maintain white pine on this particular area.
All this is not meant to suggest that the Menominee are afraid to cut down a tree. But when they do, it’s carefully planned.
What you see here is a single tree selection system of harvesting. We marked this individual tree here based on what we call single tree selection where we remove the high risk and the low vigor trees first. Menominee’s philosophy on single tree selection is to cut the worst and leave the best. And eventually, after you do that, you are going to be cutting towards the top of the batting order of more good trees, because you will have improved the quality of the forest.
This unique selective type of logging requires care and finesse when the trees are cut and removed. Special trails are built for the skidders. Sawyers like Bob Johnson don’t complain about the extra work, maybe because he owns the forest, along with 8500 other Menominee tribal members.
I’ve worked in the private in the National Forest Service at Nicolet National Forest and you got bigger timber here. If you want to keep a continuous forest I think sustained yield is the only way to go. And that’s the way I was brought up, from grandfather on.
The advantages of course with the tribe owning the forest is that everyone has a say in it. The young kids are taught in the schools to have respect for the forest products and the land. I think the land ethic here is almost second nature.
Unlike most forestry operations, the Menominee mill does not dictate that certain species be cut just because their current market value is high. Biological diversity, wildlife, aesthetic values, and concern for future generations are more important than big profits today.
Matt Otradavec, Menominee Sawmill Manager:
We want to make a profit, but we also want to be able to employ the people around here.
We have about a 165 people here and at the forestry center there’s approximately another 180 employed in the forest operations. If you had the opportunity to visit the plant and tour through it, you’d find that it’s been computerized, laser lights. We have quality control working now, we instituted some programs, training programs. We’ve had people come from the European countries, Japan and quite a few people, I believe, from Canada, our neighbors from the north, viewing the reservation and the sustained yield practices. We have to prove that we can handle our own affairs, and we’re very capable of it. The forest operation here and our forestry center and operations in Keshena is one of the finest in the country. And I’m proud to say that, proud of the people and the men and the women that work down there. And with our tribal people here that are well educated, who have sound ethics of the Aldo Leopold kind. This is the ecological paradise with respect to forest yield, flora and fauna, water and habitat.
Their forest has been a key element of Menominee survival in Wisconsin. It has sustained them because they have sustained it, attuning themselves to the cycles of the natural world. The tiny lily of the valley points the way for the towering white pine. Perhaps tiny Menominee has lessons to teach the world surrounding it.
From Since 1634: In the Wake of Nicolet
Video courtesy of Ootek Productions, 1993