She switched to other fiber, including cedar, dogbane, basswood and bullrush. But climate change threatens to push some of those species northward, too, and Dillard believes they’ll eventually become scarce near the Little Traverse Bay Bands’ land in the Northwestern Lower Peninsula.
So she is experimenting with substitutes from further south. She keeps a stash of pawpaw seeds, and occasionally buries a few near her home in Harbor Springs, hoping they’ll grow into the deciduous tree nicknamed “the Indiana banana” for its custardy, tropical-tasting fruit. But it’s the fibrous bark Dillard is after.
Jansen’s tree migration project is aimed at facilitating this kind of cultural resilience. He has specifically chosen plants that could preserve tribal members’ ability to hunt, gather and carry on cultural traditions: There’s sassafras, a species with medicinal properties. And American plum, which can be harvested by humans or grazed by deer.
As foliage on the forest canopy matures, tribal species managers hope to continue their efforts by filling in the understory with plants that can survive in the future climate.
Similar experiments are taking place or planned in communities throughout the state.
Four Traverse Bay-area conservation districts, for example, are partnering with landowners to plant six southern Michigan species, monitoring their growth yearly to assess their potential to replace common Up North species as the climate warms.
“Foresters don’t think in months or years,” said Kama Ross, district forester for the Leelanau, Grand Traverse, and Benzie Conservation Districts. “We think in the 10s and 20s and 30s of years. And that’s what it takes to make a difference on the landscape when these changes really hit us.”
So far, Michigan’s tree migration projects are small, taking place on finite plots of land. But state foresters, who manage nearly 4 million acres of state forests, have begun to take notice.
Price, of the state DNR, said the next update to Michigan’s 10-year forest management plan will emphasize climate adaptation. The agency is developing a proposal to plant experimental stands of species like shortleaf and pitch pine, which currently range only as far north as southern Ohio.
Price sees efforts to prepare Michigan’s forest for climate change as an ecological as well as an economic necessity. State forests and the wood extracted from them underpin local economies in rural northern communities, particularly those in the Upper Peninsula with few other viable industries. Every year, $50 million-worth of timber comes from state forests, supplying about 20 percent of the raw materials for Michigan’s timber industry, Price said.
“Without vibrant forest up north, you’ve lost a good source of well-paying jobs in an area of the state where, aside from tourism or what’s left of the mining industry, sometimes there’s not a lot of other economic opportunity,” Price…