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Michigan Forests Magazine
Excerpts From Spring 2014 Issue

Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.-Gifford Pinchot

What Vine is This
By Debra Huff

Michigan forests are host to many vines, both native and non-native. Do you know what you have in your woods?

Vines are part of the natural forest system and can provide food and habitat for birds and wildlife. Good forest planning and management can help you manage the system so you keep your woods healthy and productive, according to the goals you have.

This series of articles will explore some of the most common vines found in Michigan. Some vines can kill trees, either through breakage from the sheer weight of a mature vine, or through strangulation by girdling. Yet other vines can provide important food for wildlife. It helps to know which you have.

To get a basic idea of which vine you are looking at, here are some questions to answer.

1. Does it have tendrils? If Yes, then it could be Virginia creeper, grapevine, greenbrier, or poison ivy. These are the most common.
2. Is it smooth without tendrils? If yes, then it could be oriental bittersweet or the native American bittersweet.

A good resource for identifying vines is online at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, website at: http://wisplants.

In Michigan, typical vines you may find in your woods include Oriental bittersweet, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and grapevine. This article will focus on Virginia creeper and poison ivy, since they are sometimes mistaken for each other. The next installment will focus on Oriental bittersweet and grapevine.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
This vine often grows on the same site, even the same tree, as poison ivy. Unfortunately, they can look very similar. Hence the saying; “Leaves of Three, Let it be; Leaves of Five, let it thrive” used to What Vine is This? differentiate between the two tree-climbing vines by their leaves.

Virginia creeper can be beneficial for wildlife (for example bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, skunks, chipmunks, mice, deer, and turkey eat the berries and parts of the leaves), although all parts are poisonous to humans.

It can not only grow as a vine up tree trunks and walls, but it can send out runners along the ground, and quickly cover the area. Virginia creeper is very fast growing. It can cover and damage a tree or shrub but generally Virginia creeper vines do not damage the tree, as they tend to live mostly in the lower portions of a tree. When cutting vines, be careful to identify this vine because poison ivy looks similar.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Identifying poison ivy is your first task. Poison ivy is often found associated with Virginia creeper, so you may have both vines on the same tree. Both plants have leaves that start out red. But Virginia creeper has a cluster of 5 leaflets, while poison ivy always occurs in clusters of three. Leaves turn greener until fall, when the leaves turn bright red and orange and drop, leaving white waxy berries behind. One trick to identifying poison ivy is that the middle leaf is symmetrical and on a longer stalk than the two side leaves, which are mirror images of one another but not symmetrical. Leaf edges are usually smooth, but can sometimes be toothed or lobed, the side leaves often resembling a mitten shape.

Poison ivy vines will have hairy tendrils, but no poison ivy plant will have a prickly stem, like a raspberry. Poison ivy vines are brown, attached to their support trees, and do not have shreddy bark, like a grapevine. Poison ivy has wildlife value, as birds and mammals consume the berries.

Control of Vines
Control and management of vines should be consistent with your forest management objectives. If the objective is to grow high quality timber, then elimination of many vines is usually recommended. If you are managing for both high quality timber and wildlife, then you will want to leave some grapevines for wildlife and selectively manage the vines. Like all decisions, the pros and cons must be carefully examined before undertaking any action. A professional forester can help a landowner evaluate what the options are, including any cost-share possibilities that might be available to help with improving the forest.

Who to Call?
Any management system should be implemented carefully, in accordance with your forest management plan. Resources to assist you in the use of chemicals include consulting foresters and Conservation Districts foresters. Herbicides should be carefully applied, as they can also affect the trees that you wish to retain.


A Woodland Owner's Notebook
By E. Webb Rand

Pure Michigan – Maple Syrup, That Is!
My woodland is locked up in winter – an old fashioned winter, with day after day below zero temperatures, and snow covering its floor since November. I enjoy winter, but maybe less than I did a score of years ago. Nonetheless, I have made the most of it as I have some mighty fine looking firewood piled along two-track roads for next year’s use. Mostly ash, thanks to the emerald ash borer. I’ve also enjoyed uninterrupted and good cross country skiing conditions.

I took a winter break, spending two weeks in the Southwest, out of the cold and snow. A large billboard along a New Mexico Interstate caught my eye. It proclaimed; “Pure Michigan a great place to visit”. I am not much of a billboard fan. However, this one seemed less degrading of the landscape and made me somewhat proud to be a Michigander. In the summer months, the Southwest lacks cool weather, as much as Michigan lacks warmth during the winter. What could be more inviting to folks with little water and shade than tree-covered hills along a vista of the Great Lakes? After three days driving on the return trip to the snow-clad landscape of our state, there was the large “Pure Michigan” welcome sign.

To some folks, “Pure Michigan,” might seem new, but not to me. I first saw it decades ago. Then, in the spring of 2000, that “Pure Michigan” label took on new importance, for that is the year I built a small sugar shack and started making maple syrup in my woodland. By that season’s end, I had poured a little over 17 gallons of maple syrup into jugs that read, “Pure Michigan Maple Syrup.” I was pleased and proud of my “Pure Michigan” woodland product.

To my knowledge, for decades, the only Michigan product to be labeled as “Pure Michigan” is maple syrup. For that reason, I suspect that Michigan maple syrup is the root of the “Pure Michigan” campaign. I hope that Vermont is jealous.

My woodland sugar bush is small, about 3 acres of northern hardwoods with sugar maples of tapable size. I have 14 seasons of maple syrup production behind me. Last season (2013) was my best year with 22 gallons. I could have made more, had I not run out of firewood, as the sap run went on for several more days. The worst year was the year before (2012) when we went from winter to summer temperatures in a week. I only made 9 gallons. After 14 seasons, my average annual production stands at 14.5 gallons per year.

During the cold of this winter, I had the chance to read a few interesting things regarding the production of maple sweets. First, a very interesting book entitled “The Fist in the Wilderness,” a history of the American fur trade by David Lavender. Most importantly, I learned what a prominent place Mackinac Island plays in the history of our state. Most people know it as a top “Pure Michigan” tourist attraction. Two hundred years ago, Mackinac Island was the hub of trade and commerce for North America. Nearly all trade goods moving west, even those traveling via St. Louis, first went through Mackinac Island. The valuable furs obtained in trade went east through Mackinac Island headed to New York and Europe. This lasted at least into the 1820s. It is now quite a sight to see the coming and going of all the tourists, but think of what a sight it must have been to see the flow of trade, people, and the flotilla around Mackinac Island 200 years ago. The French voyageurs, noted for their colorful attire, might fit right in with today’s tourists.

Trading hero of the book, Ramsay Crook, in the summer of 1823, sent to St. Louis two barrels and sixty-six kegs of maple sugar. It was produced in such quantities by the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of northern Michigan and Wisconsin that he said he “could supply up to ten tons annually.” Unfortunately the book does not say that the trade in maple sweets was highly successful. I also suspect that none of the barrels or kegs yet carried the “Pure Michigan” label.

The second item I read is new research that claims it “could turn syrup-making upside down.” Researchers from the University of Vermont tested collecting sap from maple saplings. The report claimed large amounts of sap were produced. It proposed that 500 acres of natural sugar bush could be replaced by 50 acres of land growing maple saplings as row crops. The math in the article did not add up. For example, it claimed 400 gallons of syrup could be produced per acre of maple saplings. I suspect the author confused sap and syrup in the article.

In the study the researchers cut off the tops of the saplings, capped them with a tube, and under vacuum pressure collected the sap. This doesn’t sound sustainable to me. I can’t picture the sapling growing a vigorous new top to be whacked off again the next spring, yielding large amounts of sugar-rich sap. In recent years, the tapping guidelines for traditional sap production from natural stands have gotten more conservative. Tapping under the old recommendations could start with the 10-inch DBH (diameter breast height) class trees with one tap. A 15-inch DBH tree could take two taps, 20-inch tree three taps, on up to a maximum of four taps or buckets on trees over 25 inches DBH.

Now, the guidelines recommend not tapping a tree until it is 12-inches DBH and never more than two taps per tree. I’m more in line with these conservative guidelines and not for lopping off the whole top of a sapling. If people want to trade the natural woodland sugar bush for row crop sweets, they deserve corn syrup. I can’t comprehend the “Pure Michigan Maple Syrup” label on a row crop cultivated product.

Current data on natural maple resources indicate that the existing untapped resource is vast and that planting and tapping of saplings is not needed. Data indicate that Vermont taps the largest percent of its maple trees, only 3% of the available resource. For all other states, including Michigan, it is less than 1%. There is much room to expand production if market demand increases, but for now the consumer appears satisfied with an inferior and less expensive product.

As stated, last year was a banner year for syrup production in my little sugar bush. It was also a banner year for the 10 states surveyed by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, with 3.2 million gallons produced, up 70% from 2012. The peak year of production was way back in 1860, the reported production twice as much as that in 2013, and mostly in the form of granulated maple sugar instead of syrup. It was the equivalent of 6.6 million gallons. Production steadily dropped to a low in about 1970. Since then it has been increasing. Peak per capita consumption of maple sugar was 1860 as well with 27 ounces per person. In 1970, it was less than an ounce. Today, it is only 2.5 ounces per person per year.

When I look at these statistics I realize how fortunate I am to have some maple woodland allowing me to be a maple producer and consumer. Only 1.9% of households are said to purchase pure maple syrup. The USDA estimates that Americans consume about 80 pounds of sweeteners per year, that being nearly all refined sugars and corn syrups. Maple syrup and sugar comprise less than 1% of that market.

Maple syrup production is A LOT OF WORK! First, there is the firewood to put up, buckets and equipment to purchase and keep clean, trees to tap (often in deep snow), sap to gather, haul, and boil, and finally, syrup to finish off and bottle. Then comes the marketing. I quickly learned that my syrup was too valuable to sell, but valuable enough to give to family and friends.


Blind Squirrels and Acorns
By Dave Wellman

Beginning in the spring of 2011, a couple from L’Anse, formerly from Gaylord, contacted me regarding their property in the Gaylord area. We knew each other from the early 1960s. A forester friend, Jerry Lawrence, had been looking after their woods for many years. I checked with Jerry, knowing whatever I recommended to them would coincide with Jerry’s plan. He was alright with me going into “his” woods. Jerry passed away shortly thereafter.

In the fall of 2012, the owner and wife met me on the property for their annual visit. These folks own 80 acres near Gaylord, 65 acres of very nice northern hardwood, primarily sugar (hard) maple and 15 acres of scattered red pine planted by the family. The property was purchased in 1965 for $5,000. Several timber stand improvement cuts had taken place. About 20 years ago, the balance of low-grade logs were removed.

In early 2013, a couple of log buyers from the Grand Rapids area had contacted them about their timber. I remember that their offer was $60,000 for trees above 16” diameter. Naturally, the offer was refused due to working with Jerry and their concern for the woods. Several weeks later the offer was $90,000 “because we are in the area and can afford to pay more”. It was at that point that I was called again regarding the timber sale offer.

We agreed to meet on the property with the two log buyers to discuss certain issues. I served as the owner’s representative to ask questions that should be addressed before any forest owner should sign a timber sale contract. One of our requests was to visit a nearby sale that the loggers had been involved with. We were assured they had been working in the Gaylord area since 1995 and had a lot of friends.

The site we visited was about 2 miles away. The four of them waited on the landing while I went into the woods. To say the woods looked like a 500-pound bomb had gone off would have been an understatement. When I came out 20 minutes later, the buyers had left and the offer was raised to $110,000. Within two weeks, the offer was $150,000 and a guarantee “within 7 years you can have another sale”.

I marked the woods in early fall of 2013; 125,000 board feet were marked for harvest, of which 115,000 board feet were very nice sugar maple. The sale was contracted to Maples Sawmill in Hessel, Michigan, cut-to-length and pay as cut. The harvest started in October and was completed in December. The owners spent the winter in Arizona. So, a son (one of three siblings) from Swartz Creek came up twice to monitor the sale with me.

Stumpage payments came to $132,000. Of the total payments we received $58,000 for the veneer. We almost reached the $150,000 offer; but instead of having a “500-pound bomb residual”, we have a well-stocked stand with hardly any felling or skidding damage and most likely a stand that can be returned to in 15-20 years.

I guess that if there is a lesson here, it would be to start preparing your woodlot for a harvest as soon as possible. These folks purchased the property in 1965 and started their timber stand improvement (TSI) cutting immediately. I expect there was a lot of good-size poles and small logs to work with at the time of purchase. Each cut was marked by a qualified and good forester.

The last improvement cut, 20 or so years ago, set the stage for this harvest. The stand is now about 110 years old. With some good professional direction in the beginning, this couple has been richly rewarded. I know Mr. Lawrence was grooming this woods for this sale.

The three siblings that will inherit this wonderful woods will be responsible for its continued good management, thanks to the good direction of their parents. We are presently working to get the property enrolled in the Qualified Forest Property Program.

Because of his early unexpected passing, I feel very grateful that Jerry turned it over to me. So, Jerry when I see you on the other side, I’m going to try to sneak-in a case of Labatt’s with me to repay you.

Trailer: Dave Wellman is a long-time forester and strong supporter of the MFA. He lives in Indian River with his wife.