Mason Tract Logging Cutting up Residents

Critics say the forest is a priceless resource
Sheri McWhirter

GRAYLING -- Some nature lovers wonder if state officials can't see the forest for the trees.
Stately oaks and pines -- some 100 years old -- are being clear cut at the Mason Tract, a 4,700-acre swath in southeast Crawford County that has roots as a conservation gift to the state.

"This is a pretty sensitive area. Why did they have to do this here?" said Doug Maidment of Crawford County, who lives near the Mason Tract.

The land was given to the state as a game preserve in 1954 by conservationist George Mason, an automotive executive and legendary local outdoorsman. It encompasses nearly 10 miles of the south branch of the Au Sable River and is a well-known spot for hunting, fly-fishing, canoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing.
An ongoing 79-acre timber cut there will bring $41,895 to state coffers and provide 173,000-board-feet to the lumber industry. But some say the Mason Tract is priceless and the timbering shouldn't have occurred.

"It's a pristine area they're messing with. Is the state hurting so badly they have to cut in these areas? I don't think so," said Larry Helvie of Crawford County, a frequent skier at the Mason Tract Trail.

State officials defend their decision to allow clear-cutting of 49 acres of oak and 30 acres of jack pine as the most effective way to regenerate the forest and prevent large-scale insect and disease infestations in older trees.

"A lot of people view the Mason Tract as a preserve, but it's not. It's a special management area," said Susan Thiel, Grayling unit manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR plans logging activity up to seven years in advance, and the Mason Tract cut was proposed in 2002, when the state held meetings to gather public input.

Jack pine cuts in Crawford County and surrounding areas are common as part of the endangered Kirtland's warbler recovery program, but the sight of clear-cut oak stands in the Mason Tract troubles the public, Thiel said.

She contends state forest management goals outweigh aesthetics, though.

"We're not getting natural acorn regeneration in that area, so we're going to depend on stump-sprouting," she said.

Anyone who wants to be involved in long-term forestry plans for the Mason Tract can call Thiel at (989) 348-6371.