For many Michigan residents, heading "up north" to see the leaves change colors in the fall is an annual event. Even in the lower part of the state, seeing large trees is a fairly common event. Have you ever stopped to think about the value of those trees to Michigan or their history?
If you were to visit Michigan 10,000 years ago, you might be surprised to find that there were no forests anywhere -- the whole state was covered by glaciers! By the 1600s, however, the glaciers had receded and about 95% of Michigan was forested. Logging (or lumbering) became an important industry around the turn of the 19th century. Michigan trees, including our state tree the white pine, were highly sought after for construction throughout the Midwest. In the mid-1800s, Michigan was the country's largest lumber-producing state, growing in value from $1 million to $6 million annually between 1840 and 1860. The Saginaw Valley alone earned $7 million in 1869!
While logging has a history of being profitable, the industry also brought many new citizens to the state. Men from Canada, surrounding states and abroad came to Michigan to work as seasonal lumberjacks or as permanent workers in the many sawmills that opened. These men played large roles in the economic success of Michigan, raised future generations of Michiganders and helped create a permanent mark on Michigan's history through lumbering songs and folklore.
Logging continues to play a large part in our state's economy. A decline in forests in the late 1800s due to an overabundance of logging led Michigan to enact many laws and regulations early on to make sure we preserve the natural resources we are lucky enough to have. Today, there are over 11 billion trees in Michigan, making up one of the top five largest forests in the country. Nearly 85% of the Upper Peninsula (UP) is forested and lumbering continues to be the UP's top industry. Between logging, tourism and other activities, Michigan's forests contribute to nearly 200,000 jobs and $12 million annually to the state's economy.
So, the next time you are lucky enough to bask in the shade of an oak tree or take a drive to see the leaves change colors, remember that you are taking a part in one of Michigan's oldest and most important industries -- a resource we can all be grateful for.