Officials say volunteers came out of the woodwork looking to help with local seed harvesting that will provide seeds for planting new trees across the state.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources earlier put out the call for volunteers to help pick cones from the felled trees at its Tree Improvement Center near the Brighton Recreation Area in the area of Chilson and Bishop Lake Road. Jack pines are being harvested locally to provide seeds statewide and regenerate forests. The Center was used as a state forest tree nursery starting in 1957. Its priority purpose is to grow cones and extract seeds, and the jack pines that currently are being harvested were planted specifically to provide a steady supply of seeds.

Jack pine cones need heat to open, which under natural conditions would come from a forest fire or sunlight. The DNR will pick pine cones from the cut trees and heat them in kilns to release the seeds, which are collected in tumblers at the Center. The seeds are cleaned and later sown to grow trees. They'll then be planted statewide to regenerate jack pine forests. Timber from these felled trees also is being utilized by a local logger.

DNR Forest Resources Division Silviculturist Jason Hartman says they’ll be getting the timber removed from the trees and trying to utilize the cones, which is why they needed to try to round up so many volunteers. Hartman tells WHMI there has been an outpouring of assistance to help harvest the seeds and a big thank you is owed from the DNR. He says seed harvesting used to be done on a regular basis but the orchards became overgrown over time. The trees are not on a staggered schedule so almost all of them are 35 years old and too large to efficiently pick cones from. Hartman says the ideal age is a 10-year-old jack pine, so cones can be picked directly from the ground. He says they’re now trying to stagger out the age classes of the seed orchards so there are always some younger trees to easily pick from.

Hartman says it’s funny how the visual effect of the timber harvest then leads into some really good conversation. When people see paint on trees or timber, he says they tend to get pretty concerned but once they tell them the story of sustainable forestry and explain what it’s for and why they’re doing it, people get intrigued and love to talk about it, which is great. He said even with some of the emails that have been coming in with questions about the cone picking, the conversation gets much deeper because people want to learn more about what’s going on.

The DNR plants about 3 million jack pine seedlings across the state each year. Hartman says the habitat is valuable for a variety of species, both game and non-game, and various birds including the endangered Kirtland's warbler (pictured) that people come to Michigan to see. (JM)