Michigan’s Commercial Forestry Program Has Many Benefits – Press and Guide

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Charles E. Nebel loves to talk about forests – from planting jack pines on 40 acres of family land a quarter century ago, to red pines planted on former farmland near Chatham in Algiers County.

“There were five 40-acre plots there, and we planted that with red pine,” he said. “That was about nine or ten years ago, and the trees are over our heads now. They are 6 feet or more.

Nebel’s family has owned forest land in the Upper Peninsula since the 1920s, when his father began buying land from which taxes were collected.

Today, more than 3,200 acres of family farms are enrolled in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Commercial Forestry Program. It provides property tax relief to private landowners who are required to provide walking access to the public for hunting, fishing and trapping and to manage their land strictly for long-term timber production.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Summer forest understory growth is shown on a commercial forest property in Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

“Our land is available for people to use during hunting seasons, and we have no objection to that,” Nebel said. “We don’t put up fences, we don’t put up gates.”

The Nebel family properties in Algiers, Schoolcraft, Delta and Marquette counties are among the approximately 2.2 million acres in Michigan enrolled in the program.

About 1,800 entities – families, corporations and individuals – are listed, with land being taxed at the rate of $1.35 per acre in 2022.

“The commercial forestry program is a profitable way to grow timber,” said Gary Willis, a Baraga-based MNR forester who works with landowners through the program. “It’s like any other agricultural business. The forest products industry is a huge economic sector.

Michigan’s forest products industry generates more than $21 billion annually and supports more than 91,000 jobs, from logging to sawmills and paper mills to wood product manufacturing.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Loggers work on a commercial forest property. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

The Commercial Forest program began in Michigan in 1925, when forests were recovering from the pine logging boom of the late 19th century.

“By 1925, the age of logging had left Michigan. To encourage landowners to start reforesting, the Commercial Forest program was created, which offered a tax incentive due to the cost of property taxes,” said Karen Maidlow, Commercial Forest program manager, who administers the program.

The program has been modified over the years to meet the needs of Michigan property owners and residents.

A landowner must have 40 contiguous acres to apply for the program, although some owners have registered over 200,000 acres. Applications are accepted from January 1 to April 1 of each year. After an application is filed, an on-site review and hearing takes place.

A forester conducting a field examination of the property looks for several things during the examination. For example, since the lands are open to public foot traffic for hunting, fishing and trapping, “no trespassing” signs are prohibited.

Foresters look to see if there is recent activity, such as a new trail or timber harvesting, if current management on the property matches the plan filed by the owner, and if the land is reasonably accessible to the public.

No structures – even deer hides – are permitted on commercial forest property. Nothing can be left on the land without the owner’s permission, with the exception of traps set by licensed trappers.

Landowners must have a forest management plan in place to allow for timber harvests and long-term regeneration.

“CF landowners must contract with a professional forester to write their management plan,” Willis said. “Because there is a lot of flexibility in silvicultural prescriptions for timber management, landowners can work closely with a professional forester to get a management plan that suits their ownership goals and objectives.

“Commercial forest owners must harvest timber in accordance with their management plan. The DNR reviews all management plans to ensure compliance with program requirements. »

If approved, landowners sign a certificate of registration, which the DNR records in the county deed registry office. MNR notifies township assessors to move the land from the ad valorem tax roll (based on the value of the property) to the specific commercial forest tax roll.

“In many counties, especially in the Lower Peninsula, this equates to a huge tax break,” Maidlow said.

DNR research shows that Michigan residents are almost unanimous in their love of forests, with 98% of those surveyed saying the forests keep Michigan beautiful, 97% agreeing that the forests provide important habitats for wildlife, and a large majority agreeing that forests are important for air and water quality. A total of 87% of survey respondents agreed that healthy forests are important in providing the wood products that society needs.

The Commercial Forest Program touches on all of these interests and helps ensure that Michigan’s forests remain.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Sunlight filters through the trees to shine on the forest floor of a Michigan commercial timber property. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

“Land enrolled in the CF program is enrolled in perpetuity until a parcel is retired,” Nebel said. “The program is designed to encourage forest legacy – the passing on of well-managed forest resources to future generations.

“There are many factors at play today that discourage forest legacy. However, what we have observed time and time again is that families who work and love the land and its resources together tend to stay together. The commercial forest tax rate makes this legacy affordable.

Nebel said he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the program to other landowners.

“We were able to maintain the property, use it for lumber and not lose our shirts by keeping the taxes paid,” he said. “If we hadn’t used that to give us the ability to own the property, we probably wouldn’t own it. We really wanted to find a way to use it and preserve it.

Program at a glance

There are 2.2 million acres enrolled in the Commercial Forest program in Michigan.

Property owners receive a property tax reduction in exchange for required forest management and public access for hunting, fishing and trapping.

Access to fishing, hunting and trapping is permitted on foot. The use of motor vehicles for access is at the owner’s discretion.

The owner may restrict public access during logging for safety reasons.

No commercial activity is permitted for purposes other than forestry or oil and gas extraction.
Respect the land
The right to fish, hunt and trap in the territory does not extend to related activities such as, but not limited to: littering; camping; cut shooting lanes or cut or destroy brush, trees or other plants for any purpose; use nails, bolts, wire, tree steps, or other materials or activities that may damage trees or create potentially hazardous timber harvesting conditions; leaving behind property, including stands of trees or other hunting gear; build blinds or other structures, except to pick up dead material found on the ground; target or observation firearms; operate off-road vehicles or other vehicles on private property. If the owner allows vehicles, visitors should be careful not to block access to roads or parking areas.
Learn more about the Commercial Forestry program.

If you have any questions about the program or specific commercial forest lands, call Karen Maidlow at 517-284-5849. Program information is also available at Michigan.gov/CommercialForest.

Story by Kathleen Lavey
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

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