By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan could be getting a lot more out of its forests.
Most of the state’s harvested timber is sold as logs, but more jobs and dollars could be generated by turning those forests into products such as syrup, furniture and ethanol, according to the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Initiative.
“Right now we are shipping logs out of the state, and losing a lot of potential value,” said Mark Rudnicki, a professor at Michigan Technological University and executive director of the initiative.
The forest initiative is a group of experts in industry, academia and state government looking to grow Michigan’s economy by promoting better use of the state’s forest resources, Rudnicki said.
Michigan has 20 million acres of forest land, including 13 million privately or corporately owned, said Debbie Begalle, assistant chief of the Department of Natural Resources Forest Resources Division.
Because the Upper Peninsula has most these forest assets, products could be created in communities close to the timber’s source, bringing job growth to those areas.
Rural areas should be making the most of these assets to improve local economies and provide jobs, said Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet.
“That is a big priority for us,” Dianda said.
This industry’s expansion will require investment from state government, spurring the Reforge Michigan proposal, Rudnicki said. The forestry initiative wants funding to study what barriers are keeping the forestry products industry from expanding in Michigan.
“I presented the initial concept to legislators. The response was incredibly positive,” Rudnicki said.
Details still to be worked out include how much funding is needed and how it will be used, but a proposal should be presented to legislators in the next few months, Rudnicki said. If state funding is approved, the forest initiative will ask for federal and private investments.
Among the companies interested in the study is J.M Longyear, which owns and manages 73,000 acres of forest land in the Upper Peninsula. Company representatives sit on both the steering committee and interim board of the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Initiative.
“We look to invest in technologies that have the potential to create new and profitable businesses that utilize products from the forest,” Jake Hayrynen, forest products marketing manager at J.M. Longyear, said in an email.
Longyear has created over 150 direct full-time jobs in its Michigan locations.
About 69,000 of the company’s acres are under the Commercial Forest Program, which Begalle said provides tax incentives for companies that open their land to the public for hunting, fishing and other recreation and that develop sustainable management plans.
Longyear and other timber companies rely on Michigan forests’ assets and the regrowth of these assets, so managing land in a sustainable way is important to the company, according to Hayrynen.
The forest initiative is also interested in seeing what forest products can be created for the large chemical and biomedical industries in Michigan, Rudnicki said.
“We definitely see potentials of linking to other existing industries in Michigan,” Rudnicki said.
By ELIZABETH FERGUSON