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Oden Island to be labeled old-growth forest

Oden Island Nature Preserve
Michigan Water Trails
Oden Island Nature Preserve

The picturesque foliage on Oden Island is older than you think. Some of the hemlocks, white pine and sugar maples are hundreds of years old.

The Little Traverse Land Conservancy, which works to preserve land in Northern-Lower Michigan, concluded there have not been any timber harvests since the 1950’s, according to aerial imagery, and it has likely been much longer since any logging has occurred.

Some trees may even predate the great logging boom of the late-19th century.

Because of this, the Old Growth Forest Network — a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving some of the most ancient land in the country — have designated the island in Crooked Lake an Old Growth Forest.

“You go out there now and you can feel it’s special because of these trees that are so old and large,” said Derick Shiels, stewardship director at the Little Traverse Land Conservancy. “But even in 50 years and 100 years from now, it's going to be even more so.”

According to OGFN, less than 1 percent of legacy forests remain in the eastern U.S. and less than 5 percent in the west.

Because of this, old growth forests play a rare but important role in maintaining ecosystems.

“Various canopy layers and berry-producing plants are beneficial for many bird species. In a forest that has not been disturbed for hundreds of years some trees will develop hollow cavities. These cavities become important nesting places for animals,” a passage from the OGFN website reads.

The Little Traverse Land Conservancy purchased the large, undeveloped property in Emmet County in 2000, closing the door on any future development.

But Shiels said old growth forests also get special protection from things like the invasive species. He says that’s important as species like the emerald ash borer continue to wreak havoc on native trees.

“If that was in our service area and there was an injection or a spray or something that we could do to protect hemlocks, I think we would prioritize Oden an island for that protection,” Shiels said.

Oden Island will be Michigan’s fifth designated old growth forest. It’s also one of the smallest, spreading over only about 50 acres. The closest one in Northern-Lower Michigan is in Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling.

Oden Island will officially be inducted into the Old Growth Forest Network at 1 p.m. on Oct. 20.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.