Your Great Lakes National Forest

As one of 155 Forest Service units charged with carrying out the agency's mission, Hiawatha National Forest manages a wide portfolio of uses that provide far-reaching benefits for the American public and the Nation's natural resources.  This series of feature stories highlights the various contributions of the Forest to local communities, the economy and the environment.

Mission and Vision

Inspiring Unforgettable Experience and Sustaining Ecosystems & Livelihoods

As one of 155 Forest Service units charged with carrying out the agency's mission, Hiawatha National Forest manages a wide portfolio of uses that provide far-reaching benefits for the American public and the Nation's natural resources. 

Follow the links to learn more about the benefits provided by Your Great Lakes National Forest!


1. Mission and Benefits of Hiawatha National Forest

Congress established the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration at the height of the conservation era.  In many ways it was – and is -- the quintessential conservation agency.  Then as now, the Forest Service promoted science, efficiency, professionalism, and integrity.

Nationally, the United States Forest Service is known by its motto: “caring for the land and serving people,” which neatly boils down the agency’s multifaceted mission and vision statements (  If you look at those full-length mission and vision statements, however, you see that the Forest Service has one of the most complex and broadly beneficial missions of all public land management agencies.  Congress envisioned National Forests as a “multiple-use” lands providing sustainable supplies of a wide range of resources -- from timber and clean drinking water to habitat for endangered plants and game and non-game species; from recreation opportunities like OHV use, mountain bike trails, and dispersed camping to primitive Wildernesses experiences; from heritage sites to utility rights of way to firewood cutting permits to National Recreation Areas.  You name it, the Forest Service has likely been asked to manage it! 

As one of 155 Forest Service units charged with carrying out these overarching directions, Hiawatha National Forest manages a wide portfolio of uses. 

According to Forest officials, “Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the National Forest to meet the needs of present and future generations through conservation.  As a result, Hiawatha National Forest provides a broad assortment of services and resources to benefit local communities and the nation as a whole.”

While Hiawatha National Forest has many similarities to other National Forests across the country, each Forest has its own particular footprint.  For instance, as the only National Forest with lands touching Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, the Hiawatha is known as “the Great Lakes National Forest.”  The Forest’s lakeside setting makes it unique among National Forests, resulting in distinctive wetlands habitats, “lake effect” recreation opportunities, and Great Lakes-influenced resources such as islands, heritage sites and lighthouses.

“Our employees’ vision is that ‘your Great Lakes National Forest’ inspires unforgettable experiences and sustains ecosystems and livelihoods through collaborative, science-based land management,” explains Reyer.

This Forest-specific vision supports the Congressionally-mandated function of the agency, but also hints at local flavor.  With almost 1 million acres altogether, Hiawatha National Forest’s east and west units play a distinctive and important role in supporting the quality of life we enjoy in the Upper Peninsula. 

The National Forest sustains healthy ecosystems across the land.  Per the 2006 Forest Plan, we manage Hiawatha National Forest lands for a wide variety of integrated natural and cultural resource purposes.  For example, federal forests provide timber production; wildlife and plant habitat game and non-game species; wild and scenic rivers; fire protection; wilderness; developed recreation (like campgrounds, cabins, ski trails or snowmobile trails); utility corridors; heritage sites; and much more. All of these uses relate to the health of the ecosystems we manage – as well as to the livelihoods of local families who benefit from what Forests provide.

For instance, in 2013 Hiawatha National Forest sold about forty-four million board feet of timber, which translates into a significant benefit for the area economy and for certain species.  Further, National Forests protect the watersheds that provide 20% of the nation’s clean drinking water.  In addition, the Hiawatha’s roads and scenic landscapes provide access to many attractions that serve and inspire visitors from far and near, supporting quality of life and tourist economies in communities throughout the eastern and central Upper Peninsula. 

From the soaring cliffs and sandy beaches of Grand Island National Recreation Area to the monarch research plots at Peninsula Point Lighthouse; from the meandering fall color drive along Whitefish Scenic Byway to the tranquil campsites at one of our eighteen developed campgrounds; from over 160 miles of designated snowmobile trails to the stellar cross-country ski trails – Hiawatha National Forest offers an impressive array of campgrounds, trails, historic sites, and interpretive programming.  There is truly something for just about everyone!

In everything they do, Forest employees work toward an undeniably important mission. Over the coming months, the Forest will be providing a series of articles to share more information about the many services provided on the Hiawatha National Forest. 

One reason for the articles, she explained, is to share information with the public.  In today’s fast-paced world, land managers know that the public is increasingly disconnected from the natural world and unaware of the value of public lands.  Next month’s story will address the Forest Service transportation system. We hope these articles will help inspire readers to value and protect their National Forests and other public lands."

In the meantime, for information about the Forest and its resources, visit the Forest’s webpage at: or call your local district office.


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2. National Forest Transportation System

Your Great Lakes National Forest: Inspiring Unforgettable Experiences and Sustaining Ecosystems & Livelihoods

When Congress established the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, National Forest roads were relatively rugged and rare–and key among those roads were “wagon roads”!  In 1909, when Congress defined the Marquette National Forest (a predecessor of Hiawatha National Forest) -- motorcars were only just entering the scene! However, by the time Hiawatha National Forest was dedicated in 1931, one in five Americans owned a car: Roads had come of age across the country. 

Purpose and Benefits of NF Road System

Why provide roads on National Forests?  The National Forest System Roads and Trails Act authorizes National Forest System (NFS) roads to support efficient timber harvest from NFS land, utilization of Forest resources, and protection, development and management of NFS lands.  Management needs for roads are determined in land management planning processes like the Forest Plan and travel analysis.

Given those purposes, how does the National Forest road system benefit the public?  The Hiawatha’s road system provides a variety of services essential to the local economy and quality of life.  The Forest’s roads serve many access needs -- from vegetation management to recreation, from utility corridors to administrative needs and beyond.  In these ways, roads support local tourism; historic preservation; a variety of outdoor sports; timber industry; gas, electric and other utility services; partnerships; and numerous other activities that reinforce the U.P. economy.

Defining the system

Today the Hiawatha National Forest’s road system includes 3,168 miles of National Forest System roads spread over five “operation maintenance levels,” as defined below:

  • Level 5:  Roads provide a high degree of use comfort and convenience for prudent drivers in a standard passenger car during the normal season of use.  Usually two lanes; usually paved. Primarily our developed campground access roads (i.e. Lake Michigan or Little Bay de Noc Campgrounds) and paved roads like the Buckhorn Road near Munising.  (38 miles on the Hiawatha National Forest.)
  • Level 4:  Roads provide a moderate degree of user comfort and convenience at moderate travel speeds for drivers in standard passenger cars during normal season of use.  Most have 2 lanes.  (234 miles)
  • Level 3:  Roads are passable to prudent drivers in passenger cars at low speed during the normal season of use.  User comfort and convenience are not priorities. (203 miles)
  • Level 2:  Roads are maintained for use by high-clearance vehicles at low speeds and low traffic volumes, and not suitable for passenger cars.  Passenger car traffic, user comfort and user convenience are not considerations. (1919 miles)
  • Level 1:  Roads are “in storage” (closed) between intermittent uses, and may be managed at any other maintenance level during the time they are open for traffic. (777 miles) 

Historically, we may have maintained individual roads at a higher level of user comfort than required by the maintenance level designation; with declining resources, this is no longer sustainable.  


What belongs to Whom?

Not all roads that lie within the Forest Boundary are National Forest system roads. Many are in city or county road jurisdiction (such as US Highway 2).  One might assume that smaller paved roads like Forest Highway 13 and Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway would be Level 5 National Forest System roads, but both belong to other jurisdictions.  Similarly, the East Lake Road near St. Ignace is often wrongly assumed to be a Forest system road.

Another point of confusion is that the maintenance jurisdiction and legal jurisdiction of a given road are not necessarily the same.  Through cooperative road maintenance agreements, Forest Service provides financial support to other jurisdictions (primarily counties) to accomplish efficient road maintenance on some Forest system roads, directing maintenance funds from various sources to county road crews.  Alternatively, Forest Service and cooperators swap in-kind services to maximize road maintenance efficiency for both parties.

Private inholders are sometimes surprised to learn that private access is not part of the Forest Service road system mission.  As a result, if a NF system road is not currently needed for official uses, then private in-holders must obtain a special use road permit in order to open and privately maintain the road to access their camp or acreage.  In some cases, when large private development occurs inside the Forest, roads may be transferred to other jurisdictions (e.g. counties) whose missions include providing access to private property.


Maintenance of Roads

The ideal annual maintenance plan for most Level 3 or 4 roads (our main routes) would include grading and spot graveling 2 or 3 times per year, and mowing and brushing every 3 years (although significant long-term decline in roads funding has made this standard unachievable).

Maintenance funding (usually modest amounts that fluctuate widely) comes from a variety of federal sources.  For instance, during 2009-2011, a significant infusion of Economic Recovery (ARRA) funds allowed the Forest to address seven road maintenance and watershed protection projects, bringing funding to County Road commissions.  Such funding is not the norm, so a large backlog of infrastructure maintenance needs exists on the Hiawatha. 


Transportation Analysis Process Subpart A:  The Road Study

The Hiawatha National Forest is currently gathering information about the environmental and social risks and benefits of its road system.  The road study, sometimes referred to as “Subpart A,” is part of the implementation of the 2005 Travel Management Rule, 36 CFR 212.  Once completed, the study will be available for future efforts to identify a road system that provides access for the public and forest management activities, minimizes environmental impacts, and is as fiscally efficient as possible.  To learn more about the Road Study, visit


Into the Future

While timber extraction is an important mission-related use of Forest roads on the Hiawatha, scenic touring and access to recreation facilities are also popular benefits of Forest system roads.  You can access many outstanding Hiawatha National Forest locations and facilities via the interconnected network of Forest Service and other roads. 

You will find historic lighthouses like Point Iroquois and Peninsula Point, and scenic Great Lakes shorelines at places like Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway, Bay Furnace Campground and Historic Site, or Lake Michigan Campground.  You might enjoy pristine Wild and Scenic Rivers; outstanding recreation sites such as Grand Island National Recreation Area; or numerous ski and hiking trails including the North Country National Scenic Trail, Haywire & Coalwoods OHV Trails, and a vast network of snowmobile trails.  Or you might prefer outdoor activities near blueberry habitat, hunting grounds, fishing spots, and birding trails; -- the list goes on!

Next time you ride your local Forest road, we hope you will enjoy the Hiawatha’s beauty and pause to appreciate the costs, benefits and variety of different uses of the National Forest road system.


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3. Waters of the Hiawatha: Fisheries Management

Your Great Lakes National Forest: Inspiring Unforgettable Experiences and Sustaining Ecosystems & Livelihoods

Flyfishing on the Hiawatha NFTo accomplish management for these fish species, Forest Service biologists design and implement projects that preserve,restore or enhance habitat in rivers, streams and lakes.  For instance, projects completed in 2014 have restored more than 10 miles of brook trout habitat ininland stream through removal of sediment and placement of spawning gravel and wood structure. Trout habitat has also been expanded by removing barriers to migration such as “perched” culverts. Lake habitat in several locations has been improved by felling shoreline trees, which once in the water provide habitat for fish and aquatic insects.

Evidence that fisheries management benefits target species is clear:  Brook trout on several west zone streams have benefitted from recent installation of spawning beds. Gravel installed in the Fishdam River in 2011 was heavily used by spawning brook trout in 2011 and 2012. Number of redds (trout spawning beds) present in early November 2011 was about 65 with high numbers of brook trout still present. Over 70% of the available gravel had been spawned on.  Similar numbers of redds were present in 2012. There was no recent pre-treatment electrofishing data in this project area, but post-project monitoring found 417 young-of-the-year brook trout per acre in 2012 as well as high numbers of adult brook trout.

Our fisheries projects also benefit many more species of fish and other aquatic organisms than just the four indicator species.  For instance installation of rock and wood in streams and lakes provides excellent habitat for aquatic insects and non-game fish species such as dace and sculpins that provide forage for brook trout and bass. Many species of amphibians also benefit from restored habitat.

In addition to improved fishing opportunities, people benefit from this management gaining more diverse streams and lakes.  Reduced sedimentation in our rivers means that less sediment moves through the watershed to the Great Lakes.  Fisheries management, in combination with other soil and water management activities, can help improve the health of the entire watershed, providing cleaner water for humans and other creatures.  National Forests are the largest source of municipal water supply in the Nation, serving over 66 million people in 3,400 communities in 33 States.

As with most management efforts, partnerships play an important role in the success of fisheries management on the National Forest.  Individual and organizational partners have provided instrumental volunteer and financial support of the Hiawatha’s fisheries management over the years. 

For instance, Delta County Wildlife Unlimited has supported the Eighteenmile Creek spawning habitat and Fishdam River log bank covers projects, while National Fish and Wildlife Foundation contributed to the Biscuit Creek spawning habitat project.  The 2011 “Coho Run” spawning habitat project is an example of a project in which volunteer labor played a key role.  The Boy Scouts installed gravel in several hundred feet of this brook trout stream using wheelbarrows and buckets.

With so much aquatic habitat, the Hiawatha has long been a leader in fisheries management beginning with arrival of the first Forest Service fishery biologist on the Hiawatha in the 1970s.  In fact, the Forest’s fisheries program even served as training ground to the U.S. Forest Service’s 14th Chief (top executive), Mike Dombeck (1997-2001), who began his Forest Service career as a fisheries biologist on the Hiawatha’s Munising Ranger District.

As we continue to implement the Forest’s Land Management Plan, fisheries will continue to be an important piece of the Forest’s overall management of aquatic ecosystems.  We look forward to continued partnerships benefitting our fishery, the ecosystem, the watershed, recreation opportunities, and local economies.

In the meantime, we hope you will take time to explore the Hiawatha National Forest with your fishing pole and tackle box!  Whether you catch a fish or not, getting outdoors is a great way to relax and enjoy the beauty of “Your Great Lakes National Forest”!  For more information about fishing visit  To learn more about Hiawatha National Forest, visit our website or stop by your local U.S. Forest Service Ranger District Office in Manistique, Munising, Rapid River, Sault Ste. Marie or St. Ignace.


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4. Wilderness Preservation and Research

Your Great Lakes National Forest: Inspiring Unforgettable Experiences and Sustaining Ecosystems & Livelihoods

The Hiawatha National Forest is home to six federally-designated Wildernesses covering a total of 37,408 acres of land, each unique in its habitats and landforms.  These areas --  Big Island Lake Wilderness, Delirium Wilderness, Horseshoe Bay Wilderness, Mackinac Wilderness, Rock River Wilderness and Round Island Wilderness -- were all designated in 1987 when the Michigan Wilderness Act set aside twelve Wildernesses in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, based on Wilderness Act legislation signed on September 3, 1964, by Lyndon B. Johnson.

Nationwide, the National Wilderness Preservation System includes over 758 Wildernesses in 44 states covering more than 110 million acres of land overseen by not only the Forest Service but also the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. Across the United States, there are439 designated Wilderness areas on Forest Service land.

In this month’s feature we will explore lesser known values of Wilderness.  Frequently we associate solitude, self-reflection and quiet recreation with Wilderness. The less-frequently discussed values we’ll highlight in this story include water and air quality protection, protection of wildlife habitat, presence of unique wildlife and plant species and ability to bequest unspoiled resources to future generations.

How does Wilderness contribute to water quality protection?  With over 36 million acres of National Forest in Wilderness designation, Wilderness areas assist the 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands in providing clean drinking water for 66 million Americans. The lack of roads in Wilderness means they do not contain roads and the associated problems with roads (such as erosion and runoff) which cause stream sedimentation. On the Hiawatha National Forest, designated Wilderness provides a portion of the land base for two Wild and Scenic Rivers. Wild undisturbed river systems naturally clean and oxygenate water  because of their free-flowing condition.

Similarly, forests void of human development and motorized travel are sources of clean air.  It is estimated a single tree can produce over 250 pounds of oxygen and absorb as much as 10 pounds of pollutants such as, sulfur and other greenhouse gases.

Habitat protection is another benefit of designated Wilderness,  Wilderness areas provide places for plant communities to develop without disruption or manipulation by humans. In combination with varying landforms, these areas provide a multitude of microsites that result in high plant species diversity. Diverse vegetation in turn provides diversity in habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Combined with the largely roadless aspect of Wilderness, isolated from the sights and sounds of humans, Wilderness provides remote habitat for wildlife requiring a large home range with little human disturbance. In this way, designated Wilderness contributes to the protection of diversity of vegetation communities and wildlife habitat, helping to carry out provisions of laws such as providing habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife and plant species.

Lastly, by setting aside designated Wilderness, the people of the United States have the opportunity to leave a legacy of wildness for future generations – our children’s grandchildren!  As defined in the Wilderness Act, “… wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  The Act also explains the purpose behind designation of Wilderness areas: “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition...”.

Wilderness preservation allows future generations to catch a glimpse of the pristine unspoiled beauty. The benefits are many, from clean air and water, areas that provide beautiful vistas, solitude, biological diversity; an area that can be used for research, study, observation, and where we can unplug from the hussle and bussle of our busy city lives, where we can reconnect with nature. This gift is something we can be proud to pass on to future generations.

We hope you will help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act by learning more about the Wilderness Act and taking time to appreciate Wilderness areas for their contributions to healthy ecosystems, education, preservation, and aesthetic resources available on “Your Great Lakes National Forest”!  For more information about Wilderness visit

To learn more about Hiawatha National Forest, visit our website or stop by your local U.S. Forest Service Ranger District Office in Manistique, Munising, Rapid River, Sault Ste. Marie or St. Ignace.


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5. Vegetation Management: An Integrated Ecosystem Management Tool

Forestry is the science of managing trees. Not surprisingly, forestry often comes to mind when you mention the Forest Service.  And rightly so:  Since 1891, when Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, the United States has been setting aside public lands as forest reserves designed to protect and improve forests while providing sustainable supplies of wood and water. 

Yellow leaves on treesToday the Forest Service is a multi-faceted agency that sustains the health, diversity and productivity of 154 national forests and grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico and is the world’s largest forestry research organization. Locally, on the Hiawatha National Forest, forestry practices are part of our daily, on-the-ground work.  While trees are an essential part of that work, sustainable management of national forest vegetation involves more than just cutting and re-planting trees.  Forest management involves a set of versatile ecosystem management tools providing numerous benefits.  What are these tools and how do they benefit people and the planet?

The vegetation management toolbox includes a variety of timber sale options, fire, and other vegetation treatments that increase the presence of native plants and/or decrease non-native invasive plants.  How are these tools selected and implemented?  

Silviculture is the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, health and quality of forests and woodlands to meet the diverse needs and values of landowners and society on a sustainable basis.  Forest Service silviculturists are specialized foresters trained and highly knowledgeable in the effects of specific treatments on local forests in our specific habitat conditions (i.e. soil, moisture regime, aspect and climate).  

Guided by the Hiawatha’s Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan), these specialized foresters apply their knowledge as they develop treatment “prescriptions” for managed forest areas.  They collaborate with other specialists (e.g. hydrologists, wildlife biologists, botanists, and engineers) to develop interdisciplinary prescriptions that address multiple resource needs.

Silvicultural prescriptions are as varied as the landscape and cover the range of potential management objectives, from timber production to wildlife habitat creation or maintenance; from scenery management to reduction of fire hazard.  For example, if the objective in a particular area is to grow tall, straight pine trees for use as lumber or poles, a silviculturist might prescribe periodic light thinning of the trees, at 10-15 year intervals, to concentrate growth and quality on the best remaining trees. Each successive thinning would supply more desirable products than the previous thinning, up to a rotation age of 80 to 160 years (when the stand would be regenerated).  

At another, sandier site where tall trees would not grow as well, objectives might instead focus on providing habitat for the endangered Kirtlands warbler while also regenerating jack pine; the silviculturist might prescribe a short-rotation regeneration harvest for that location. In this case, the stand would be clearcut for pulpwood, leaving the topwood, branches, twigs and cones on the site, where the cones would open the next summer in the heat and spill seed on the exposed soil.  The seeds would then germinate and grow into seedlings, then saplings, and then mature trees, completing the cycle (a “rotation” in forestry terms). In this kind of project, the clearcut areas can be very large, sometimes exceeding 1,000 acres, because Kirtland’s warblers need large patches of young jack pine.  

Flyfishing on the Hiawatha NFWhen a scenic view is the over-riding priority in the previous example, vegetation treatment might be modified to leave inclusions of uncut tree in the foreground, strategically placed, to provide a more pleasant scenic appearance for those driving by on an adjacent road.  Or perhaps a trail or other recreation site lies in a stand of American beech trees dying of beech bark disease; a recreation specialist would work with the silviculturist to ensure recreation objectives were addressed, and a hydrologist might recommend measures to minimize impacts to a nearby stream.

How do we implement the above integrated vegetation management prescriptions?  Forest Service experts such as foresters (who set up and oversee timber sales); fire management officers (who design and oversee prescribed burns); botanists (who select and oversee planting of native species); engineers (who identify and design access) and other resource specialists work together to implement management prescriptions.  We’ll dig deeper into these resource specialties in future articles.

But first, we’ll focus on the “why” – Why should we use an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to forest management?  Our next story will summarize some of the key benefits of the Forest Service’s multiple use mission.


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6. Vegetation Management (Part 2): 

In Part 1 of this story about forestry, we considered how Forest Service foresters and silviculturists integrate their sciences with other resource specialties (such as botany, fire management and hydrology) to ensure that Forest Service land management addresses the agency’s “multiple uses” mission.  Here in Part 2, we’ll step back from the mechanics of land management “prescriptions” to consider the overall benefits of an integrated approach to vegetation management.

In integrated natural resource management, we aim to balance many resource values rather than focusing on just one resource, such as timber, or one benefit, such as economic benefits.  This balanced approach to land and resource management results in a wide variety of benefits that span an array of economic, environmental, and social factors. 

A slash bundler gathers woody biomass into manageable bundles.The economic benefits of integrated management include sustainable forests that provide a dependable supply of fiber.  Locally, Hiawatha National Forest provides about 45 million board feet of timber to area mills each year.  This wood becomes products we all use – everything from oriented strand board to dimensional lumber to paper and more, and contributes significantly to local Upper Peninsula economies.  Other vegetation management activities on the Hiawatha National Forest (including stand improvement, bough harvest, etc) also directly contribute to the U.P. economy and provide jobs in the central and eastern Upper Peninsula.

In addition to timber related jobs, local communities gain economic benefits in other ways.  The vegetated appearance of the Hiawatha’s beautiful landscapes also benefits local communities by creating appealing landscapes that attract tourists, sporting enthusiasts and others.  Even though it can be difficult to quantify the monetary value of ecosystem management, efforts to do so reveal significant numbers.  In 2013, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that over 160 million people are served by National Forests each year, generating over $11 billion dollars in tourism alone.

Leaf on LichenThe environmental benefitsof integrated management are critically important.  Biodiversity conservation means the number and variety of organisms in an area, and it is a key benefit of wise vegetation management prescriptions.  Why is biodiversity important?  As conservationist Aldo Leopold once said, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”  Hiawatha’s Forest Plan directs us to manage in ways that maintain and enhance the mosaic of habitat types that exist on the ground, while also managing for multiple uses.  “Keeping all the pieces” benefits everyone because it means that our forests, wetlands and waters are more resilient in the face of impacts like insects, disease, and climate change. 

Healthy, sustainable forests include a diversity of tree species and age classes, providing a rich variety of habitats that host a wide array of animals and plants.  Carefully managed forests also provide clean water and air – and in fact, about 20% of America’s water originates on National Forests, the largest single source of fresh water in the United States; 180 million Americans rely on National Forests as the original source of their drinking water. Trees also clean our atmosphere by intercepting airborne particles, and by absorbing ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and other greenhouse gases.  These and other environmental benefits of wise forest stewardship are priceless. 

Woman sits on rockThe social benefitsof sustainable national forests include social, psychological, educational, physical and intrinsic benefits.  Research shows that these important “quality of life” benefits improve individual physical and psychological well-being.  Exposure to trees and natural environments encourages friendlier and healthier social interaction among children and adults.  It reduces stress, improves the recovery of surgical patients, and even increases university graduation rates.  In urban areas, availability of natural areas reduces graffiti, property crime, and violent crime, while also creating a friendlier social atmosphere. 

Research also indicates that time spent in forests provides an important sense of solitude that may support self-actualization.  One such study investigated the relationship between types of forests and people’s psycho-physiological responses, showing that people preferred and benefitted most from forests with water environments -- we have lots of those on the Hiawatha!  Another study revealed that “forest therapy” participants showed significant improvement in depression symptoms and self-esteem levels. 

No matter how you look at it, your national forests provide important benefits -- economic, environmental and social.   Where less than a century ago there were private lands of charred stumps and brushfields, today the Hiawatha is a thriving national forest with healthy ecosystems that provide this wide range of benefits.  Since its designation as a national forest in 1908, a legacy of human use and misuse of land has evolved into the Hiawatha’s legacy of stewardship and restoration. 

Today, integrated vegetation management projects are one tool that helps ensure diverse ecosystems with diverse benefits.  Hiawatha National Forest: inspiring unforgettable experiences while also sustaining ecosystems and livelihoods.


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7. Special Uses on the Hiawatha

Runners approach finish line

If you have been following our ongoing series of stories featuring the Forest Service’s multiple uses, you already know that Hiawatha National Forest manages resources ranging from recreation to timber; from wilderness to minerals; from water to wildlife and more.  The U.S. Forest Service’s mission is to help people share and enjoy the forest, while conserving the environment for generations yet to come. Special Use authorizations or “permits” are one more tool that allows us to provide opportunities for the public to utilize public lands for a wide variety of uses.  Let us take a look at the Hiawatha’s Special Uses program, which currently includes about 350 authorized permits.

What kinds of uses are considered Special Uses?  Forest Service special use authorizations cover a wide variety of uses of and access to National Forest lands.  In this feature, we will look at activities authorized under Special Use permits in two main categories: 

Ski racers

1. Non-Commercial Group Use is a use or activity that involves a group of 75 or more people, either as participants or spectators, where an entry or participation fee is not charged and the primary purpose is not the sale of goods or services.  Some examples of the non-commercial group uses we see on the Hiawatha includes weddings, church services, endurance rides, regattas, camping trips, hikes, music festivals, rallies, graduations, and races. 

For instance, in March 2015, a local group hosted a free, vintage snowmobile ride known as the Relic Ride.  In order for the event to utilize snowmobile trails on National Forest system lands, a special use authorization was required.  The proponents of this event worked closely with Rapid River/Manistique District Ranger to develop an event proposal that addressed public safety, liability and other important factors.  Non-commercial group uses such as the Relic Ride can benefit local communities by providing outdoor recreation activities while also supporting the local economy. 

2. Activities are considered Commercial Uses when:

  • An applicant intends to charge an entry or participation fee, or 
  • The primary purpose is the sale of a good or service, regardless of the intent to produce a profit. Money collected may cover expense categories, such as food, transportation, prizes, advertising, purchase replacement of equipment, or compensation for the leader of the activity. 

Commercial Use authorizations address a wide range of uses, such as recreation events; commercial photography and filming; outfitters and guides; transportation permits and energy permits.  A permit is required for these types of events, regardless of the number of people involved in the activity.  

Recreation event authorizations provide for events like races, fishing contests, rendezvous, youth treks, concerts, and other similar events.  For example, this summer Great Lakes Endurance, LLC, will hold its 10th annual Grand Island Marathon on Hiawatha National Forest’s Grand Island National Recreation Area.  The event draws hundreds of runners to the area, contributing to local economy and providing a unique recreation experience.

Commercial filming and still photography authorizations provide for such uses on Forest lands (except that involving breaking news, which does not require a permit).  Need for this permit depends upon specific conditions including but limited to the use models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.  Examples of this use on Hiawatha National Forest have included photography workshops led by expert photographers.

Outfitting and Guiding includes all commercial outfitting operations involving services for accommodating guests, transporting persons, and providing equipment, supplies, and materials. It also includes commercial guiding activities where the guide furnishes personal services or serves as a leader or teacher.  A permit is required when any aspect of the outfitting/guiding operation would be conducted on National Forest System lands or waters.  Local examples of outfitting and guiding services would include hunting/ fishing, canoeing trips, dogsledding, snowmobiling, and hiking tours, etc. 

Power line work being done on FM&S National Forest

Energy permits provide for commercial uses related to energy, wind, pipeline, transmission lines, rights-of-way, electrical easements, utility lines, wells or holding tanks, etc.  Hundreds of miles of utility lines are authorized across Hiawatha National Forest.

Why are special use authorizations needed?  As a steward of the National Forests, the Forest Service has a duty to minimize resource impacts on National Forest System lands.  Large group gatherings or commercial uses in the National Forests may have significant adverse impacts on Forest resources, public health and safety, and the agency’s ability to allocate space in the face of increasing constraints on the use of National Forest System land.  A permit system allows the agency to address these problems more expeditiously, more effectively, and more equitably. 

Therefore, depending on the complexity of the proposal and the number of other permits in queue, obtaining a special use authorization may require time.  In order to facilitate the permit process, we encourage proponents to coordinate early with the local District Ranger.  Not all proponents receive a permit, therefore any action taken before receiving a special use authorization, such as advertising or expending funds, is premature and at the proponent's risk.

It is also important to know that the Forest currently receives more special use authorization proposals than it is funded to accommodate.   As a result, the Hiawatha has incorporated deadlines into the application process for most Special Use Permit types.  Applications for summer/fall uses (June 1 and October 31) must be received by February 15 of the same year.  Applications for winter/spring uses (occurring between November 1 and May 31) must be received by July 15 of the earlier year.

Hopefully this article has given you an understanding of the basics of Special Uses.  To learn more about these and other permit categories, visit our Event and Commercial Uses webpage or contact your local District Ranger.  


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