Why They’re Here

4hAlice and I hosted a group of 4H young people and their parents at the Estivant Pines this week. After we gathered in the parking lot, we gave them a short talk about what to do if you get lost in the woods, and then headed out on the trail. We stopped in a beautiful grove of big white pines and talked to them about the sanctuary.

One thing I wanted them to understand is how unique the Estivant Pines is. This sanctuary is the largest stand of virgin white pines in Michigan. I thought it would be interesting for them to hear why I believe this couple of hundred acres on the northern tip of Michigan’s UP is all that is left of the virgin trees that once covered our state. I told them the story of the wealthy Frenchman that owned the property for the copper mines that were on it. I explained that since he was wealthy, he probably didn’t see the need to cut down the trees for money. The fact that he lived in France made it more difficult for the loggers to reach him and make a deal for the timber. This area is also very rugged and difficult to reach, the soil is thin, and the trees are not perfect specimens. This and other reasons probably saved our pines.

pinesAs we drove home from the event, I thought some more about the subject. Sitting in that beautiful grove of white pines with that group of eager young people made me feel very peaceful. There is nothing else I am aware of that makes me feel this way. But the monetary value of these trees cut down, sliced up, and delivered to the sawmill is high. And as a people, we’ve decided that the lumber value is so much higher than the aesthetic value that just about every corner of our state has had its virgin trees removed. Places like the Estivant Pines constitute a tiny fraction of what was once here.

We do not often question this attitude toward our natural world. “Logging provides jobs,” I often hear folks say. I would argue that a couple of men could have logged the Estivant pines in less than a year, converting that property to the same stump fields that once covered the entire state. Those couple of men would probably have appreciated the work, but what about the property? The Estivant Pines is, we believe, the second most visited place in Copper Harbor, after Fort Wilkins. There are hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and others in Copper Harbor that depend on their guests having something fun to do while they’re visiting. Is it possible that the wages those couple of loggers could have earned are eclipsed by the value the sanctuary has as a tourist destination?

As we drill for oil, dig for ore, and cut down our forests, we see our quality of life increasing, and all seem to agree this is a good thing. Perhaps we need to take a longer view of this. Perhaps there are intrinsic benefits to leaving some places untouched. Perhaps such places are more important to our well being than we were aware of. Maybe when we tune our capitalist system, account needs to be taken of everything that is lost when such an area is disturbed, and not just the value of the lumber that is generated.

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