Guild FSC land in Michigan undergoes audit

Written by Mike Lynch

In 2016, the Forest Stewards Guild became the owner of 410 acres of predominantly northern hardwood forestland in Houghton County Michigan; and in 2018, these lands became certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). 

The Guild acquired these parcels from Forests for the Future of Harbor Springs, MI upon the dissolution of this charitable organization. Forests for the Future (FFF), and the forestland accumulated by FFF, were the dream and life’s work of Fred A. Prince, Jr. Mr. Prince began accumulating 40 to 160-acre parcels in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the northern third of the Lower Peninsula in the 1950s and sought to preserve the parcels as healthy, productive, forests.  He wanted to demonstrate to other small-tract forestland owners that forestland can be managed sustainably through sound silviculture. The Guild was chosen as a good fit to carry on this vision for the parcels in Houghton County. 

The Guild saw great potential for these properties as demonstration sites for “Guild-style Forestry” and developed the following goals for the property: 

  • Provide a foundation to build and expand on our work promoting sustainable forestry and forest conservation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

  • Maintain, restore, and enhance the biological diversity, water quality, and ecological integrity of the managed parcels and the broader landscape context through long-term, sustainable, forest management practices. 

  • To provide a laboratory for learning and research for students and faculty at Michigan Technological University.  

  • To demonstrate silvicultural and forest practices that balance ecological, social, and economic values.  

  • To demonstrate application of climate adaptation best practices in partnership with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science in Houghton, MI.  

Upon completing the forest management plan, with the help of 2017 Guild intern Russel Lipe, we determined that becoming FSC certified fit our objectives for the property and began working with The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Tina Hall and Fran Price to join their FSC Group Certificate. The group certification system offers an opportunity for smaller landowners to share the administrative and oversight costs of certification. And, perhaps most importantly, it opens a network of others with experience achieving and maintaining certification that can be very useful to a new applicant. 

At its basic level the process of becoming certified is getting to know the FSC Standard and making sure your management meets the Principles and Criteria found within the Standard. After making sure there is conformity with the Standard, the property is then audited by an FSC-accredited Certification Body. Read more information on becoming certified

The Michigan portion of TNC’s Group Certificate was audited from November 12 to 14th; with the Guild audit occurring on the 14th. This date worked based on everyone’s schedules, but mother-nature had some other ideas.  

Houghton County is located on the Keweenaw Peninsula which juts out into Lake Superior and experiences an average of 18-20 feet of ‘lake-effect’ snow throughout the winter. In 2018, that snowfall began sometime prior to November 14th and the group was met with more than two feet of snow on the rural logging roads that access some of the Guild parcels. Despite this snow, one of the more remote parcels was chosen for the audit because it has been painted in preparation for a timber sale and provided the best view of our approach to forest management. Undiscouraged by the snowy logging roads, the group set out to visit the painted parcel. This worked great – until it didn’t – about 2.5 miles from the parcel, one of the trucks sunk into some soft muddy soil that underlie the snow. This led to more than an hour delay digging, pushing, pulling, and winching the truck out.  

We would not plan it this way again, but the challenge of getting the truck out actually created a great team building exercise for the crew that included people from New Hampshire, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Minnesota, and Arizona – in addition to those from Michigan. We decided to hike the rest of the way in after recovering the truck and walked through a magical scene of hemlocks and northern hardwoods draped in a heavy cloak of snow. 

The auditor provided through and constructive review of the management plan and its implementation and helped us think through some of the potential pitfalls and opportunities we will be presented with in owning and managing these parcels. We look forward to seeing the auditor’s final report in the coming weeks. In general, the feedback we received from the auditor and the TNC Group Certificate Team was affirmational and let us know we are on the right track.  

One of the key goals we have for these parcels is for them to be demonstration sites. Now, as part of that demonstration, we can add the process of becoming FSC Certified to the list of things we share information about. We also hope to showcase some of the property’s on-the-ground management relatively soon. The first two parcels that we set up have nice timber, but their small size, restrictive topography, and remote nature make them a little more challenging to market. Stay tuned... 

Thanks to Mike Lynch for photos in this article.