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Midwest Forest Health Experts are Working to Stage an American Elm Comeback, and They Need Your Help

A century ago, American elms shaded neighborhoods with their lacy, arched canopies. Today, many of those trees are dead – a legacy of the destructive Dutch elm disease. The fungal disease, spread by bark beetles, slowly wiped out most American elms after being introduced in the early 1900s.

The American elm’s story isn’t over, however. Midwest forest health experts are working to stage a comeback, and they need your help.

Have you noticed any large, healthy American elms in your area or when out hiking in the forest? Those “survivor elms” might be tolerant of Dutch elm disease. If you are in Michigan’s colder climate zones (zone 5 and colder), you especially are encouraged to report these trees. Currently, there are no Upper Peninsula reports and very few northern lower Michigan reports. It’s important that these zones are represented, because it helps provide a clearer picture of where disease-resistant elms may be.

Several Midwest state natural resource agencies and the U.S. Forest Service are working together to identify such locations. They plan to collect branch samples for propagation (the process of growing new trees from a variety of sources) with the goal of developing a seed orchard suitable for future reforestation efforts in northern areas.

If you come across one of these trees, record its location and diameter at 4.5 feet from the ground. Submit the observation to the survivor elm website. 

Eligible elms must be:

  • An American elm (not an imported species).
  • At least 24 inches in diameter.
  • Disease-free.
  • Naturally grown, not planted or treated with fungicide
  • Within 1 mile of Dutch elm disease (indicated by nearby dying/dead elms).

Standing Dead Trees

Michigan has large volumes of standing dead trees. The distribution varies among species, sizes, and geographically around the state. These stories speak volumes about how these resources are valued.

The volume of standing dead trees in Michigan forestlands amounts to 2.2 billion cubic feet, or the equivalent of about 28.7 million cords. By comparison, Michigan’s annual harvest is roughly five million cords. If all the dead standing trees were laid-out in cords, side by side, that pile would run nearly 22,000 miles, almost around the Earth at the equator. Another way to imagine that cord volume, four feet deep, is that it would cover a township of 36 square miles. This volume represents about 6.5 percent of the standing live volume. So, it’s no small amount of wood and it’s quickly accumulating. Yet another way to look at this standing dead volume is how many wood-based mills it might support. That 28.7 million cords could provide enough feedstock for about 24 large paper mills, or 100 large sawmills. Of course, the forest doesn’t accumulate 28.7 million cords every year. It’s built-up over time.

Now, standing dead trees are valuable for habitat. Many species of wildlife will use the trees for cavity nesting, roosting, an insect food source and other purposes. The larger the dead tree, the better. However, almost two-thirds of the dead tree volume is in the smaller size classes, under a foot in diameter. It’s important to note that wildlife populations do not necessarily increase with higher numbers of dead trees. Many species are territorial. Eventually, those dead trees fall over and create important on-the-ground habitat for a different suite of wildlife. Over the decades, the wood decays and becomes part of the soil, although most of the nutrients in a tree are not in these woody trunks and roots.

The major species groups of standing dead trees are the ashes, aspens, and fir-spruce, together accounting for nearly half the volume. We can thank the emerald ash borer for much of the dead ash. The spruce budworm may be able to take part of the credit for fir and spruce. Five individual tree species account for 40 percent of the standing dead volume; green ash, quaking aspen, white ash, balsam fir, and paper birch. Maples comprise nearly a third of all Michigan live volume, but account for only nine percent of the standing dead trees. This suggests the maple resource is currently healthy and vigorous. Maple-dominated forest types are among the most commonly managed, which would help explain this healthy condition.

There is more to tree mortality than standing dead trees. Every year, trees die. Of course, eventually all trees die, even our favorites. This annual mortality rate runs around the equivalent of six million cords, which is also more than what is harvested. Only over the last few years has Michigan’s mortality volume exceeded the harvest volume. Not surprisingly, the patterns of annual mortality are similar to those of the standing dead tree volumes. Most of the annual loss occurs in the smaller diameter trees and is among the ashes, aspens, and fir-spruce.


Five tree species account for 46 percent of the annual mortality volume; green ash, quaking aspen, white ash, balsam fir and red maple. This is almost the same list as for the standing dead volume. However, when weighed against the live volume, which species have taken, proportionally, the greatest hits? The top ten volume losers, by percentage of live volume, include the three ashes, American elm, and beech. These five have suffered from exotic species. Balsam fir and white spruce have been hit by the native spruce budworm. The other three, to round-out the top ten, are paper birch, jack pine, and quaking aspen. This mortality has been due to old age and successional changes.

If even a million cords of the annual mortality, of the six million, could be harvested, that would be enough wood to supply a large pulp mill, many sawmills, or provide heat and hot water for 200,000 homes. There are more factors in better utilizing forests and enhancing the economy than just the forest inventory. However, understanding the magnitude of the potential supply is a good place to start. With an amenable set of socio-economic conditions, Michigan’s renewable forests could sustainably contribute much more to human welfare, forest health, wildlife habitat, and clean water. So, in the end, it’s more about the people, than the forest.

Preventing Wildfires

Forests are amazing places covering almost a third of the Earth’s land, including over 700 million acres in the United States (that’s about 529 million football fields!). Forests are home to a huge variety of plants and animals, providing them with food, water and shelter. Our forests are very valuable. Not only are they places of beauty and outdoor fun, we also rely on trees for fuel, food, raw materials and medicine. Even more importantly, trees and plants in the forest make sure that the Earth’s temperature is livable and that we have enough oxygen to breathe.

Wildfires are unplanned and unwanted fires that are very dangerous to people who use the forests and outdoor areas or live in nearby homes and communities. Wildfires can also cause a lot of damage to some plants and animals and their homes.

In some cases fire is good for a forest, but unplanned fires that burn too hot can make it hard for the forest to recover. Can a forest ever recover from wildfire? The answer is yes, but unfortunately, it can take a very long time. An average forest is about 70–100 years old, and the trees in some forests can be 4,000–5,000 years old!

In 2019, 87% of wildfires were caused by humans, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. From 2001 through 2014, almost 63,000 wildfires occurred each year from human carelessness, and those fires burned an average of 2,560,000 acres each year. In 2016, data showed just under nine out of ten wildfires were still caused by humans nationally. Considering population growth in the United States and the increase of outdoor recreation users and people living next to and within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), this is actually improvement. We still have a lot of work to do. Children need to hear and learn about Smokey Bear and his wildfire prevention message, and adults need to be continually reminded of the need to prevent human-caused wildfires from equipment use, dragging chains, parking on dry grass, backyard debris burning, and of course, campfires.

Smokey Bear has been educating the public about fire safety since the 1940’s and he is still on a mission.

To help protect these amazing places, remember Smokey’s Five Rules of Wildfire Prevention:

  1. Only YOU can prevent wildfires
  2. Always be careful with fire
  3. Never play with matches or lighters
  4. Always watch your campfire
  5. Make sure your campfire is completely out before leaving it

There’s nothing quite like enjoying the great outdoors with a roaring fire, gooey s’mores and a night sky full of stars. But that wonderful campfire is also a big responsibility. Smokey needs your help preventing wildfires so more families like yours can enjoy this experience in beautiful forests, other wildlands, and even your backyard, for years to come. That’s why it’s important to learn how to be safe with your campfire.

Learn how to be safe with your campfire: 

How to pick your campfire spot

Hikers holding a map

     How to prepare your campfire pit

A shovel being pushed into the ground
Campfire in a ring of stones
A burning campfire

Invasive Pests Take a Toll on Trees

Invasive insects and pathogens have wreaked havoc on ash, elm, chestnut trees and others, wiping some of them almost completely from American forests. In addition to the ecological impact, a Purdue University study shows that the carbon storage lost to these pests each year is the same as the amount of carbon emitted by 5 million vehicles.

New infestations of invasive pests or diseases can be devastating and pose a serious threat to Michigan’s agriculture, forests and the environment.

Harmful invasive species, some of which are invisible to the naked eye, can hide in or on firewood. While most cannot move far on their own, these pests and diseases can be transported undetected on travelers’ firewood, starting new infestations in locations hundreds of miles away. These invasive species threaten native tree species without natural defenses against these pests and diseases. Infestations also can destroy forests, lower property values and cost huge sums of money to control.

It is recommended that if you are going camping to buy firewood from the State Park you are traveling to instead of bringing firewood from home. This helps limit the distance the firewood travels, preventing a new infestation.

To limit the spread of invasive species, leave firewood at home and:

To learn about what forest invaders to watch out for, go here. As always, report an invasive species sighting in the MISIN app or on the website, or report it to the DNR.


Tree Planting Instructions

3 Things to Consider BEFORE Planting A Tree - Seneca Conservation ...

Instructions provided by the Arbor Day Foundation

With everyone getting anxious to get outdoors to plant their trees this spring, it is important to consider a few things before digging a hole. Planting a tree is much more than merely digging a hole. Be sure to select a good planting site, select the right tree and follow planting instructions for the type of tree you are planting.

It is very important to select a good planting site. You will want to first identify the prospective tree planting location and, if it is on city property, find out what municipal department is in charge of planting and caring for city trees. Ask that department who is responsible for the identified area and what process must be followed to receive permission to plant a tree there.

When choosing a location, keep in mind soil conditions water availability, overhead wires, space available for roots (to avoid upsetting sidewalks or streets) and space available for the canopy (to avoid interfering with traffic or business signage).

When selecting a tree to plant, be sure to consider what the tree needs and what the planting site can provide. There are six ”tree needs” to compare with the site’s conditions:

  1. Temperature – Trees have a limit to the cold they can endure. Check hardiness zones before choosing a tree.
  2. Moisture – Each species can tolerate wet or dry conditions to a different degree.
    Light – “Shade tolerance” is the term foresters use to rate the light requirements of each species.
  3. Pests – Every locality has problems with a particular insect or disease. Some trees are more susceptible to a certain disease than others.
  4. Soil – Soil depth, structure, pH and moisture can make the difference between success and failure with a tree. Each species has its preferences.
  5. Air pollutants – Chemicals in the air vary with localities; some trees are more tolerant of air pollution than others.

Before you make the final decision on the tree species, other factors should be considered. Is the tree being planted to save energy and provide shade? Is it being planted to beautify the grounds? Is providing wildlife habitat important? Will the tree be part of a windbreak or shelter-belt? Determining why a tree is being planted will help identify the ideal species.

Also, you should know how big it will be at maturity. Will it have “head space” and root area to grow well? Will roots interfere with the sidewalk, patio, or driveway at maturity? Will it block windows or scenic views or tangle with the utility wires when it is mature? These answers will all help eliminate inappropriate species or future issues.

Finally, keep in mind its shape, its leaves and its impact on the area.

After you have chosen a tree that is suitable for the location, get permission to plant from the appropriate city agency. Have your choice approved by your city or state forester.

Here are planting instructions based on the root configuration of your tree:

Bare Root

Balled and burlapped


For more tree planting tips go here. 

While we may be celebrating Arbor Day a bit differently this year, its significance remains the same

Celebrate Arbor Day (4)

As communities, schools, organizations, companies, and residents adjust to a new routine, there is still a lot of uncertainty in the air. While many Arbor Day events across the nation are being cancelled, the spirit of Arbor Day remains strong. This public health crisis has most definitely pushed us all outside our norm and has taught us to be more creative in finding ways to celebrate trees and connect with nature.

The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. J. Sterling Morton, a Michigan native, pioneer and journalist championed the idea of a “tree planting holiday” in the Nebraska Territory. In the 1800’s the plains had been cleared for building materials, fuel and farming. The pioneers quickly warmed up to the idea of planting trees because trees reminded them of the homes they left in the east, and they needed windbreaks to reduce soil erosion, and shade from the hot sun.

Morton became the editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper. He used that forum to spread agricultural information and the need for trees. On January 4, 1872 he proposed an April tree planting holiday to the State Board of Agriculture. He advocated tree planting by individuals and by civic organizations for the public good. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for properly planting the most trees. It is estimated that Nebraskans planted over 1 million trees that first Arbor Day.

Each year, the Governor and Michigan Legislature proclaim the last week in April as ‘Arbor Week’ and ‘Arbor Day’ as the last Friday of that week. The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance has held the state of Michigan’s celebration at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing for the last 24 years and 2020 would have been the 25th celebration. Each year, over 1,000 second and third grade classes are invited to attend to celebration, where they learn all about trees and assist with a tree planting on the zoo’s grounds. The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance is hoping to reschedule an Arbor Day event for this fall.

The Arbor Day Foundation, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance and the Michigan DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry programs offer the following ideas as alternative ways for communities and citizens to celebrate this year:

  • Support your local nursery, landscaping business, or conservation district when buying trees
  • Learn about the benefits of trees and forest online at the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance or Arbor Day Foundation and share information via social media.
  • Plant a tree in your yard or adopt a city tree to care for this year
  • Go for a hike through the woods at a local park. Find a park close to you at Discover the Forest. 
  • Consider delaying your public tree planting events until the fall, a perfectly appropriate time for planting and celebrating trees
  • Promote and host a virtual Arbor Day, using your city’s cable access channel or social media to demonstrate how to properly plant and care for a tree.
  • Encourage residents and children to create colorful tree-themed pictures and artwork and post them in the window of their homes and businesses
  • Promote community/neighborhood sidewalk chalk art celebrating trees and Arbor Day and encourage walking tours and sharing of photos online.
  • Reading and writing stories, poems and songs about trees.
  • Encourage residents to post pictures of their favorite trees on social media.
  • Livestream a story about trees or share videos of librarians reading the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer.
  • Host a Tree ID Challenge encouraging citizens to send photos and ask questions
  • Solicit tree-related questions to a city arborist via email and answer the questions via videos posted on your community’s website or social media.

“Trees are an important part of our lives in ways we don’t often recognize or appreciate”, said Kevin Sayers, DNR Urban Forester. “They truly are a celebration of life, both for us today and for those in the future.”

Hannah Reynolds, the Arbor Day Coordinator for Michigan, said “trees and forests enrich our lives in many ways, but perhaps one of the greatest things they are doing for us right now is improving our mental health. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors and in a forest setting reduces stress and anxiety. I can attest to that, because each time I immerse myself in nature, I am overcome with calmness.”

No matter how you decide to celebrate trees this year, be inspired, be creative, be safe and have fun. Others will be thankful for your efforts today and in the future.


In Times of Uncertainty, Nature Gives us Hope

Spring is a time of year we usually all look forward to. It brings warm weather, birds begin migrating north in huge numbers, flowers begin blooming, tree buds slowly open and new leaves emerge and wildlife become more active as they seek food and places to nest.

The promise of the growing season leaves us all with a sense of hope, especially in times of uncertainty. While we face perhaps one of the biggest public health crisis’ of our time, one thing remains certain – nature is here for us. Nature has been here for people through times of crisis before and will continue to be here for us moving forward, bringing us peace and a way to cope with our stress and anxiety.  Let nature be your refuge.

Studies have shown simply walking outdoors or in a forest can improve your mental and physical health. There are a growing number of people seeking out green spaces in today’s face paced society. Nature captivates people, it allows them to slow down a bit and provides a sense of serenity.

Walking through a forest, especially in spring, is one of the most remarkable experiences one can have. You may hear a wood frog calling out  (sounds like a clucking chicken), or you may hear spring peepers, which make high pitch shrill calls. These sounds are clear indicators that a new season is upon us.

Nature is truly incredible and it reminds us that things are constantly changing and evolving. As each season comes and goes, it reminds us hope lies ahead and that this health crisis shall too, pass.

While we patiently wait for this uncertain season in our lives to pass, get outdoors and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Go for a walk, a hike or simply sit in the woods and just listen, you won’t be disappointed.


Photo: Hannah Reynolds, picture taken at Baldwin Park Trails, Onondaga, MI

Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

Right Tree Right Place

Trees provide a host of benefits to the homeowners and communities they are planted in, whether it’s shade, beauty, privacy, windbreak, or higher property values. But these benefits are only enjoyed when you plant the right tree in the right place.

If you want to ensure the health of the tree you are planting, it is very important that you are planting the right species in the right location. Planting large trees in tight spaces, or trees that aren’t compatible for the region are detrimental to the health of a tree and can result in higher maintenance costs. Planting species that are native to your area is a safe way to ensure your trees will thrive.

There are a few factors to consider before planting. First, decide what function you want the tree to serve. The type of tree you select will vary depending on the purpose for planting. Once you know why you’re planting, select from species that serve that purpose well.  For example, large, deciduous trees are ideal for shade, evergreens work well as a privacy fence or a windbreak, and if you’re looking to add beauty to your yard flowering trees are great options. Some examples of good shade trees include: Quaking Aspen, Northern Catalpa, Hackberry, Red Sunset Maple, Northern Red Oak, Tulip tree and more.

Once you have determined the function of the tree, you can begin scoping out good areas in your yard/property to plant it. Be cautious of nearby structures, overhead utility lines, underground work such as water mains or pipes, and houses nearby. It is especially important to be very cautious before you dig a hole. If you hit a gas line, it can be deadly and also result in huge fines. Before you dig, be sure to contact MISS DIG to flag areas where there are underground utilities present.

You also should consider how tall the tree will grow when it reaches maturity; will the spot you’re planting in support the tree? Any space less than four feet wide is not suitable for trees, even small trees. So many trees are removed because they were the wrong tree planted in the wrong place. If a tree is properly planted, it can help avoid unnecessary conflicts down the road. Don’t plant large trees under utility lines, and don’t plant moisture-dependent species in dry areas. Diversity is also important. Always plant more than one species of trees, as filling your yard with the same species is problematic, especially if the species is prone to pests or disease. A good example of why you should diversity your plantings is the Emerald Ash Borer infestation. Some neighborhoods were heavily affected by the pest as most of their neighborhood’s trees were ash. If a disease/pest targets a certain species and you have ten of those same trees, you will most likely lose all of those trees. If you have a diversity of trees, you can prevent this from happening.

Here are some helpful tree planting resources:

Why it’s Important to Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

Arbor Day Foundation Right Tree Right Place YouTube Video

Tree Selection and Placement 

Tree Planting and Care

Tree Owner’s Manual – Forest Service – USDA



Red Pine


From:  Bill Cook, MSU Extension Forester/Biologist

Date:  February 2020

Red pine has long been a fast-growing, attractive, and relatively disease-free forest tree species.  While many natural stands exist, most red pine was planted.

Image result for red pine forest

      A great deal of Michigan’s red pine was planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps, mostly in the 1930s.  Michigan had one of the largest CCC programs in the nation and a lot of red pine was planted to reforest lands that had been cutover and burned.

     Red pine was selected because the seeds were readily available and fairly easy to extract and work with.  Nevertheless, it was a quite a task to grow seedlings in nurseries.  The process was rather involved, especially for the technology of the times.  A visit to the CCC Museum near Higgins Lake explains all this.

     Fast-forward to more recent times and much of that red pine has been managed by the Michigan DNR, federal government, and industry using a prescribed thinning regime.  Researchers developed these protocols after the optimistic and hopeful CCC-ers, and others, had planted thousands of acres of red pine.

     Red pine growth patterns have a bit of an antagonistic relationship between site occupancy and rapid growth.  The best spacing will close the canopy, exclude most competing vegetation, and begin self-pruning.  All this is good.  However, attaining enough diameter to justify a commercial first thinning is also important.  Too close together, and the canopy will close before that first pulpstick appears.  Too far apart, and stand-wide growth will suffer and stem form will be branchy for too long.  Small and few knots is one objective.

     Spacing recommendations, usually about 6 by 8 feet or 6 by 10 feet, found the sweet spot, assuming a future thinning would happen to keep the trees growing at full speed.  Too often, that first thinning didn’t happen or was done too late.

     Red pine is remarkably sensitive to shade.  Once the canopy closes, diameter growth drops dramatically.  However, height growth continues.  So, abandoned and unthinned stands consist of tall, skinny trees that are stressed from too little sunlight and the subsequent loss of sugar production through photosynthesis.

     As lower branches die, the living crowns of trees can drop to ten percent of the height of the tree, or less.  At this point, the plantation (or natural stand) is a lost cause.  Even if thinned, the crown ratio will not recover, and the gaunt lollipop trees will be even more subject to wind breakage.

     With long-unmanaged stands, it is often best to clearcut and start over.  One of the worst things that can be done to a red pine stand is a failure to thin.

     While relatively pest-free, red pine does have a few health concerns worthy of mention, in addition to benign neglect (lack of management).

     Stressed red pine are an invitation to bark beetles, wood borers, and other pests.  Especially in drought years, bark beetle populations can explode killing much of a red pine stand.  Sawfly larvae enjoy munching on younger trees, particularly when they’re shaded.

     Oddly, the good deed of thinning red pine stands can result in punishment by a fungal disease called “Heterobasidion root disease”, or HRD (H. irregulare).  Rather pernicious, HRD can invade recently cut stumps.  Once in a stand, the pathogen will spread through root systems.  Pockets of dead and dying red pine appear.

     Diplodia shoot blight and Sirococcus blight will disproportionately impact multi-storied stands, which are sometimes created for species diversity or other good reasons.  Understories of red pine, under or near mature red pine can have high mortality rates.

     Scleroderris canker is another enemy of red pine.  A more virulent European strain can cause stand mortality.  However, that strain is not yet known to be in Michigan.

     On the habitat side, young plantations provide excellent cover from weather and predators for many animal species.  However, once canopies close and shade eliminates most of the understory, species diversity drops for a period of time.  However, this cloistered habitat is preferred by a handful of wildlife species, which adds diversity at the community level in a landscape dominated by hardwoods and aspen.

     Traditional red pine management guidelines were built around the goal of maximizing the commercial growth for forest products.  As goals change over time and with new ownerships, opening-up red pine stands now comes with certain risks of disease.  Many red pine stands have been lost through development of human infrastructure or converted to other forest types.  However, red pine remains one of Michigan’s most common and beautiful tree species.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree..

In a world where we can have a Christmas tree in any color/height we want, that is pre-lit, has an automatic timer, and doesn’t need any watering, why would we ever give thought to going to a tree farm and brave the bitter cold to cut down a real tree? Better yet, why would we pay $50-$80 for a tree we are no longer going to use after the holiday season? Because cutting down your own Christmas tree is all about making memories as a family, supports local businesses, and is better for the environment – that’s why.

So, what exactly are the benefits of having a real tree in your home vs. an artificial one? There are plenty! Real trees offer an aroma that is enough to get you in the holiday spirit. Sure, real trees require a little extra love and care, but the beauty and scent they offer is incomparable.

Teaching the next generation about sustainable forestry/tree farms is very important. Often times, youth are under the impression that cutting down trees is bad, and that’s not the case. Tree farms (and logging companies) are extremely sustainable, with new block plantings going in every year, replacing trees that were cut down. Not to mention, you are supporting a local business when you purchase a real tree.

Opting for a real tree has many benefits for wildlife and/or livestock as well. After Christmas, you can create a brush pile with the discarded tree in your backyard. This will serve as food and coverage for wildlife during the cold winter months. If you don’t have a backyard to do this, you can donate the tree to a local farmer who will use it to feed his/her livestock (yes, they will eat your Christmas tree)!

Another real tree option is purchasing a potted Christmas tree, this will allow you to plant the tree in your backyard the following spring. MSU Extension has tips and suggestions for how to do this.

While going with an artificial tree may seem more convenient and cost effective, it is way less environmentally sustainable and does not offer any benefits to wildlife or local businesses. On average, an artificial tree only has a lifespan of about 7 years. After several years, they end up in a landfill. It ultimately comes down to this: Plastic vs. wood. Going with the renewable option will always be better for the environment.