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Major TNC Land Acquisition Connects Sustainability and Quality of Life Across Michigan

Working at the Intersection of Economic Development, Nature, and Sustainability


Surrounded by the pristine waters of Lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula is one of the most unfragmented forested and freshwater areas in the United States. It provides a habitat for many iconic species, from gray wolves and pine martens to the migratory raptors and songbirds that can be spotted throughout the state on their long annual journeys. It also supports a very important industry in our state – forestry.

More than half of Michigan is forested, with 20 million acres making up a vital part of the state’s landscape. Millions of acres of Michigan forest land are used to produce timber, a renewable and sustainably managed resource that supports many additional industries. The forests also provide other values, including watershed protection and biodiversity.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the state’s forest products industries provide direct employment to almost 42,000 people, leading to $13.4 billion in economic output. Since 2014, jobs directly provided by forest products industries have increased by 9.7%.

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Clearly, it takes a sensitive and extremely thoughtful approach to balance and uphold the integrity of nature and industry so that both can thrive.

Recently, The Nature Conservancy of Michigan announced the protection of more than 32,000 acres in the Keweenaw Peninsula, known as the Keweenaw Heartlands. The acquisition was completed in two parts, purchasing 22,772 acres directly from The Rohatyn Group (TRG) in October and acquiring 9,769 acres in December from a conservation-minded buyer who had purchased the remainder.

This acquisition nearly doubled the peninsula’s protected lands.

Says associate state director of the Nature Conservancy Patrick Doran, “Securing the 30K-plus acres in Keweenaw is amazing for us. The opportunity to move land into conservation at this scope just does not exist in too many places in the US. This project truly sits at the intersection of economic development, nature, and sustainability and has connectivity to and around the entire state.”

He points to bird migration as one example, saying, “Millions of hawks, songbirds, and more move from South America, hit the Great Lakes to the Detroit corridor and stop on Belle Isle then fly up the Keweenaw Peninsula before making the daunting trip across Lake Superior. Southeast Michigan is an important stop in their migration process. So, there is this interesting species connection between the lower peninsula and the UP.”

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The acquisition of the land and its future involves strong collaboration between a diverse group of community leaders, the State of Michigan, and many people who love the Keweenaw.

“We see TNC as a temporary holder of this land, for maybe the next three to five years. Eventually, we’d like it to be owned by state and local townships and municipalities and counties,” said Doran. “We believe local ownership achieves the best conservation outcomes. But in the meantime, we will work to ensure that the protection of this one-of-a-kind property helps shape a stable economic future, outdoor recreation, sustainable timber and other ecosystem services the land provides.”

Climate change is also a key element in play here. Doran says, “TNC is exploring the most effective ways to work with companies across the state in their quest to meet their sustainability goals. The forests can support these companies in this quest, and the companies are in turn investing in the forests.”

While most of the timber is harvested in northern Michigan, secondary manufacturing occurs throughout the state and contributes to the employment of those 42,000 mentioned earlier.

Says DNR state forest planning and operations manager David Price,

Many are surprised that Wayne County itself generates over a billion dollars in the forest products industry.  The county’s paper products industry supports over 2,800 jobs.

He goes on to say, “The bottom line is, maintaining a healthy and productive forest throughout the state is directly related to the economy in Southeast Michigan and the economy of the entire state.”

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All 47,000 acres of TNC’s forest reserves in Michigan are now FSC®-C008922 certified which, according to Doran, acts to increase the level of sustainability management and ensure the health of the whole system. He says, “Again, timber is a huge part of the states’ economy, and it’s important to manage this industry in a way that is thoughtful and promotes the ability to sequester carbon and protect nature.”

TNC is the world’s largest conservation with almost 6,000 employees around the world working to sustain nature, the economy, the climate, and the quality of life for all species.

About the Conservancy and its work in Michigan and around the world, Doran says, “When we have a project in place, we think not only about executing that project with boots on the ground but also think about how it impacts the entire system. We lift our heads and assess the impact on the region, the Great Lakes, the state, and the world. We think about how it will affect the economy, the air, the climate, and people’s lives now, and for future generations.”


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