Danny Vereb’s parents bought a 40-acre wooded property in Elmer Township, near Mio, in 1962. Over the years, the Verebs enjoyed outings and hunting there.
When he took ownership of the property, Vereb started to think about harvesting some trees and improving the wildlife habitat. He connected with Lora Freer, forester for the Ogemaw and Oscoda Conservation District, in 2006.
“She came out to the property and we talked about what I wanted to do with the trees,” Vereb says.
Freer told Vereb about two Michigan programs that promote active forest management among private landowners: the Forest Stewardship Program and the Qualified Forest Program.
“She said my first step would be to find a forester to write a management plan,” Vereb says.
Forest Stewardship Program
The Forest Stewardship Program, administered by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, provides professional forest planning resources and technical assistance to landowners. The department has certified about 75 professional foresters in Michigan who can write qualified Forest Stewardship plans. In 2006, Vereb qualified to receive a cost share to help defray the expense of the plan.
A forest management plan is critical to maintaining forest health, says Steve Shine, Conservation Programs manager for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Surveys done by Michigan State University show that less than 20 percent of private landowners actively manage their forests,” he says.
Freer helped Vereb find a private consulting forester to write the plan, which outlines steps for timber harvest, while promoting the wildlife habitat. She stayed in touch with Vereb, alerting him to other resources to help meet his goals.
“The relationship between our Conservation District foresters and private landowners is very important,” says Shine. Vereb’s plan called for thinning the overmature jack pine and aspen trees on the land. “Harvesting lower-quality trees gave more room for healthier trees and a better wildlife habitat,” Freer says.
Qualified Forest Program
After the Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved his stewardship plan, Vereb applied for the Qualified Forest Program. Administered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the program provides a local school tax exemption to forest owners committed to environmentally sustainable and economically viable forest management.
“In 2013, we measured $6 million in economic activity from the work of our Conservation District foresters,” Shine says. “That includes everything from the professional foresters who write the plans to the loggers, pulp mills and local contractors that an owner might hire,” he says.
Landowners often hire local help to plant wildlife food plots, construct ponds and correct erosion problems. And adjacent landowners benefit from the nearby enhanced wildlife habitat, too.
“Financially, it’s a good deal for me as a landowner,” says Vereb.
But he saw more than financial benefits. The health of his forest started improving. His management plan called for two lines of white spruce to be planted around red pines, promoting pine growth. He controlled erosion, all too common with the area’s sandy soils, planting native grasses and shrubs. Thinning the tall aspen brought more birds and deer to his property. Vereb’s first pine and aspen harvest was lower-grade lumber more suited to wood pulp and pallets. Harvests later in the year yield trees suitable for higher-value uses: dimension lumber, knotty pine paneling, hardwoods for veneer.
The Forest Stewardship Program and Qualified Forest Program combined to benefit Vereb’s forest, showing just how both programs are so economically vital.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how it worked out,” he says.
Freer echoes his sentiments. “The whole drive of the programs is to make sure good forestland stays good forestland,” she says.