The 2013 Forest Health Report for the state of Michigan has been released. In simpler times this would have merely been viewed as an annual trip to the timber doctor – but not today. As we have now come to expect, much of the document is dedicated to the discussion of the growing threat to our state forests’ health represented by disease and exotic pests.
The Michigan Forest Health program represents a nearly 40-year collaboration between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In recognition of the increasing number of invasive pests and diseases, the program was expanded in the 1990’s to become a more regional initiative. Other impacts on forest health, including the effects of episodic drought, are also discussed in the report.
Maps provided clearly illustrate the expansion of both disease and invasive threats. The list reads like a Who’s Who of forest villains including Oak Wilt, Asian Longhorned Beetle, Beech Bark Disease, Emerald Ash Borer, Eastern Larch Beetle, Hickory Wilt, Heterobasidion Root Disease, Balsam and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Jack Pine and Spruce Budworm.
The implications of this “perfect storm” of forest threats are obvious. The State of Michigan ranks 22nd in total land area but is 10th in forested lands. Michigan’s lands are over fifty percent timber-covered representing an area of over 19 million acres. The forest products industry contributes nearly 14 billion dollars to the state economy. Additionally, its overall health is inextricably linked to the quality of our soils, lakes, streams and wildlife.
Although our state’s forests have survived disease and other sources of stress over the millennia, what IS new is the accelerated rate at which these emerging threats are being introduced. The compression of these events has made it increasingly difficult for the natural systems to respond quickly enough to avoid what in some instances may be regional species elimination. If we are to preserve the rich diversity which has historically been found in our state’s forests, it will require increased public awareness which serves as the primary purpose of this report.