FW 4800 Guest Blog: Do Not Call Me a Tree Hugger

cut log with snow in the background
cut log with snow in the background
Logging is a family business for Heidi Harmala, a fourth-year undergraduate student in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science.

Most common job skill in demand? Good communication. Natural resource students from FW 4800 practice writing op-ed letters and share their thoughts on issues from their field.

Every day while driving to work, I see at least one log truck going to or from an active logging site. These truckers are working from sun-up to sun-down, bringing stacks of logs to the mills. My great-grandfather was a true boots-on-the-ground chainsaw logger. His son and grandson followed in his footsteps and became loggers. I have the great opportunity of becoming the next family member to join the industry. I am a forestry student at Michigan Technological University and proud to be keeping the family legacy going. I am just one reason why this industry cannot be decimated in Michigan.

The wood product industry employs just under 30,000 people in the state and creates $21,000,000,000 for the economy. But it is not only the economy that benefits from this industry; the forests themselves are benefiting from sustainable logging.

Forests are healthier when diseased trees are cut out, which then improves quality of the retained forest for the next logging cycle. When dying unstable trees are cut, human safety is improved. There is a higher chance of a dead or dying tree falling on a person than a stable healthy tree. As these new healthy trees grow in the forest, their timber is then a higher quality of wood. This in turn produces more revenue for all the stakeholders (loggers, foresters, landowners and the mills). These high-quality logs are then turned into high-quality wood products like wood furniture and veneer products. Wildlife habitat is also affected by harvesting. The trimmed tree tops and branches create structure for small mammals and birds.

Risk of forest fires lowers dramatically when proper logging is used as a forest management strategy. Even though the Midwest is not thought of first when it comes to forest fires, many ecosystems in Michigan are prone and can handle fire. When these ecosystems are not properly managed, dead wood and branches can build up on the forest floor and creates massive fire loads. These large fire loads create the fires that we hear on the news: thousands upon thousands of acres burning very quickly. Because many forest lands are not properly managed for fire, the fear creates a dangerous stigma.

I urge you to understand that ground fires are important in some ecosystems. Trees like red pine have thick bark that can withstand low intensity fires, and jack pines need the heat to open their serotinous cones. The ignorance of the public is a concern. If you are a forest landowner and can see large fuel loading occurring, it is vital to the safety of the forest to remove that wood.

The forest product industry creates a large part of the economy and can also improve the lives of some wildlife. Trees must be cut for this to occur. If you understand what I said, please stop calling me a tree hugger.


family photo in front of a barn
 Heidi Harmala comes from a family of Upper Peninsula loggers. 

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.