HOUGHTON - Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce members heard an overview of the forest industry from members of four local companies at Thursday's Eggs & Issues forum.
Speaking at Thursday's meeting were Dave Tormohlen from Plum Creek Timber Company, Eric Stier from American Forest Management, Mark Korkko from Molpus Group and John Kantola from Northern Hardwoods.
In the state, forest management generates about $12 billion annually, representing 150,000 jobs, Korkko said. In addition to its employees, Molpus supports at least a dozen independent contractors over its 157,000 acres in the U.P., and and 20 timber harvest contractors, who market products to sawmills, paper mills, firewood sellers and more.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Dave Tormohlen of Plum Creek Timber Company speaks at the Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues forum Thursday at the Magnuson Hotel Franklin Square Inn in Houghton. Various representatives of the forestry industry spoke at the forum.
"That resource that comes from this area travels all over the world," Korkko said. "There's people from Italy, Japan and China that come to buy and look at the resource we have here. We have a wonderful resource."
Tormohlen said Plum Creek has 350,000 acres in the western Upper Peninsula, including a small footprint in Houghton County in the South Range area.
It harvests about 20,000 acres a year - primarily a selection harvest of northern hardwoods with some clearcuts of aspen and pine. To replenish the pine, Plum Creek plants about 1 million acres of seedlings a year.
The company also has initiatives such as a community scholarship program and an employee involvement program that can match money and in-kind donations by its employees.
"The climate's good, the industry's healthy, and we look forward to being here for a long time to come," he said.
After three or four years of "survivor mode," Northern Hardwoods is seeing positive things in the industry, Kantola said. They're hoping to generate another 10 years by the end of the year, he said.
Northern Hardwoods is also more efficient than 20 years ago. Its sawdust is sent to companies who make products such as toilet seas and liquid smoke. Its bark goes to a paper mill for fuel.
"There's nothing that goes to waste in that facility anymore," Kantola said.
The companies said they strove to find the proper balance between access and preserving the quality of the land for their clients.
Stier said they determine whether to berm or gate lands depending on factors such as the quality of the road surface and water quality.
"Roads that have been historically open, and historically pretty solid roads, we've make a pretty concerted effort to keep those in good shape," he said. "We even try to maintain them when we're not using them.. it's not that we don't want people in there, it's to protect the resource."
One attendee was also concerned about a repeat of Molpus's actions in Minnesota, where it recently announced plans to block off hunters' and snowmobilers' access to 286,000 acres of its land in Minnesota. Minnesota recently cut the tax break Molpus receives for allowing public access of land by nearly $2 million.
Korkko said while the Michigan land is open for hunting and fishing traffic on foot, the company routinely looks the other way for activities such as dog-walking, bicycle riding and ATV riding. However, he said, Molpus's main concern is for property rights.
"There's a lot of tolerance on our end," he said. "We're people that live and work in this community. But we have a higher responsibility to our client-owned timberlands. ... Somebody's livelihood, their future, depends on us maintaining the intact timberland that they purchased, and they gave us the responsibility to manage it. We try to do our best with that. Sometimes when things get blocked off or closed off, it's simply a matter of protecting the investment as it is."
Tom Tikkanen, executive director of Main Street Calumet, said the cooperation of local forest resources companies has been essential to the Copper Dog 150 sled dog race.
Tikkanen also asked about the impact of drought on the maple stands. Stier said early research is pointing to moisture-related causes from low rainfall patterns. With clusters of soon-to-be-dead trees, he said, they have had to clear them out.
"We don't want to be doing this, as foresters," he said. "This is my livelihood. We don't enjoy doing this. But we also don't want to watch these trees die."
Also, he said, while managing for hard maple would create a pleasing look, it would also harm oak, which needs plenty of sunlight. The forest can also recover, he said. He pointed to the formerly bare swaths of land from the mining areas.
"There's a tradeoff ... all of us are charged with educating, talking to landowners, talking to people, and understanding that sometimes logging is not pretty - for a little while," he said. "And it will recover. It will get better."