2017-05-04 / Life in Leelanau

Conservancy plans to 'get it right' with Palmer Woods

By Scott Lowe
Special to the Enterprise

MUSHROOMERS have more than 700 acres to roam at Palmer Woods, but the days of finding a car trunk full have passed. MUSHROOMERS have more than 700 acres to roam at Palmer Woods, but the days of finding a car trunk full have passed. Palmer Woods, at 707 acres, represents by far the largest project the Leelanau Conservancy has undertaken.

So it’s no surprise that the Conservancy is moving with care, consulting with stakeholders and experts in a number of fields to develop a comprehensive long-range plan.

“We want to get it right the first time,” said Conservancy executive director Tim Nelson.

The property is of critical importance for the Glen Lake watershed, and presents some management challenges for the Conservancy.

Before the Conservancy purchased the woods, the Palmer family had managed the property for several decades as a working forest. Nelson explains that the Conservancy is working with academics and forestry experts to continue what the Palmer family began: managing the reserve to promote sustainable production of timber, diversity of native plants, and healthy habitat for birds and mammals.

DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES are blooming at Palmer Woods Forest Preserve — and there may be a few mushroom out, too. DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES are blooming at Palmer Woods Forest Preserve — and there may be a few mushroom out, too. Also important is preserving the quality of the water that eventually recharges Glen Lake. The forest is planned to serve as a model of scientific management, providing a demo for other property owners interested in enhancing the vigor and health of their own forests and woodlots.

In the meantime, though, Palmer Woods provides a recreational mecca for lovers of the outdoors.

The property is already open to the public and offers several trails for skiing, snowshoeing, and summer walking. Offered are two looped trails, the Main (1 mile), North (0.8 mile) and one-way Price Valley Trail (2.1 miles). All three are marked trails, and there are many more miles of unlabeled logging roads threading through the property.

First-time visitors may discover that it is surprisingly easy to get lost. The Conservancy urges visitors to stay on marked trails, both for their safety and to minimize the disruption of native vegetation.

According to Nelson, the Conservancy is making good progress on an initial plan for the forest and expects to release more information in the next months.

Eventually the network of trails may be expanded. Current trails are marked by temporary signs as a first step intended to give visitors early opportunities to explore and enjoy Palmer Woods.

Like the other forests of the county, Palmer Woods faces stresses new to our region. Exotic and invasive insect pests have brought several devastating diseases to Michigan, disrupting the balance and altering the makeup of forests. The larvae of the emerald ash borer, a Chinese beetle that first appeared in Michigan in 2002, have already decimated most of the ash trees in Palmer Woods. According to a State of Michigan website, the emerald ash borer may eventually kill more than 700 million ash trees in the state.

Beech bark disease, a fungal disease that enters trees through the microscopic wounds created by beech scale, a tiny wingless insect, has also infected many of the mature beech trees in the Palmer Woods. Immature trees are not as susceptible to the scale insects, because their bark is less fissured and gives fewer points of entry.

Oak wilt is relatively new in the county, but it is spreading. The disease is caused by an invasive fungus, carried by innocent-sounding “picnic beetles,” that damages all species of oak to some degree but is devastating to members of the red oak family, killing infected trees within weeks.

Visitors to the forest can witness the impact of the diseases by examining trees marked with paint for removal or salvage. Nelson hopes that removing diseased trees as soon as possible will enhance the survival prospects of uninfected trees.

It is encouraging that some of the mature beech trees in Palmer Woods are displaying resistance to beech bark disease, so there is a possibility to propagate new generations of resilient beech trees from the survivors.

Long before the Conservancy purchased Palmer Woods, the Palmer family had enrolled the parcel in the Qualified Forest Program. This program provides a measure of tax relief for owners of working forests.

Given Palmer Wood’s reduced tax burden, the Conservancy initially hoped that selective logging would provide adequate income to cover property taxes. Unfortunately, meeting that goal in the short term is now unlikely. For the next ten years, most trees removed from Palmer Woods will be salvage harvest and of limited commercial value. However, the Conservancy believes that eventually the sustainable harvest of healthy trees will generate “modest but significant income.”

While Palmer Woods represents a major undertaking, the Conservancy has no intention of standing still. Its legion of volunteers wouldn’t stand for that.

Nelson explains that volunteers build trails and bridges, boardwalks and signs, and make the success of the organization possible. The professional staff of the Conservancy provides direction and technical expertise, but volunteers provide the energy, Nelson said.

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