Amid the sprawling farmlands of northeast Wisconsin, the Menominee forest feels like an elixir, and a marvel. Its trees press in, towering and close, softening the air, a dense emerald wilderness that’s home to wolves, bears, otters, warblers and hawks, and that shows little hint of human hands.
Yet over the last 160 years, much of this forest has been chopped down and regrown nearly three times. The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, its stewards, have pulled nearly two hundred million cubic feet of timber from this land since 1854 — white pine cut into museum displays and hard maple made into basketball courts for the Olympics.
Yet the forest has more trees on the same acreage than it did a century and a half ago — with some trees over 200 years old.
The Menominee accomplished this by putting the well-being of the forest and their people ahead of profits and doing the exact opposite of commercial foresters. They chop down trees that are sick and dying or harvest those that have naturally fallen, leaving high-quality trees to grow and reproduce. It is regarded by some as the nation’s first sustainable forest.
The Menominee tribe has sustainably logged its forest in Wisconsin for 160 years. But that careful balance faces a crisis: too many trees and too few loggers….
The Menominee people once occupied some 10 million acres stretching from the eastern half of what is now Wisconsin into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but in the 19th century were forced to cede the vast majority of it. Pressured by the federal government to relocate to northern Minnesota, the tribe negotiated to stay put, on a fraction of its ancestral land around the Wolf River.
According to Michael Skenadore, president of Menominee Tribal Enterprises, the tribe began logging shortly after the formation of its reservation, when it recognized the revenue potential of white pine. The government wanted the tribe to clear the trees and to farm, according to Michael Dockry, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s forest resources department…
A quotation attributed to the tribe’s legendary Chief Oshkosh set their course. If the Menominee took only very old, sick and fallen trees, he said, “the trees will last forever.”
The result was a sustainable forest that is influential today. Foresters routinely come from around the world to study the Menominee land, which has been recognized by the United Nations and certified by the Forest Steward Council, the gold standard for responsible forestry, among other awards.