by Peter Jakey
A new forest assistance program forester for the Presque Isle and Cheboygan County Conservation Districts has been on the job since the early part of the month.
Derek Nellis is working out of the Presque Isle Conservation District office at the Presque Isle County Airport in Rogers City, but has plans to split time at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA) office in Onaway.
The forest assistance program is designed to increase active management of non-industrial private forest lands.
Nellis has a Bachelor of Science degree in forest management from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, as well as a B.S. from Northland College in outdoor education. He had worked with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and was working for Wood County Parks and Forestry in Wisconsin Rapids, before his hiring was approved here.
The Door County, Wisconsin native has been getting familiar with his new surroundings in northeast Michigan and has a place in Rogers City.
Last Friday, Nellis met several private landowners during well-attended Forestry Field Day in Tower and conducted site visits in the rain, among other activities.
“The position is designed to assist private landowners by informing them about their options for planned management, getting management plans in place, and informing them about cost share and assistance programs that they are eligible for,” said Nellis.
He’ll also facilitate community educational activities, which promote quality forest management and provide general forestry assistance.
There are currently 11 million acres of non-industrial private forest land in Michigan.
A survey conducted by Michigan State University of those private forest landowners concluded that only 20 percent of that 11 million acre resource is currently being actively managed for specific forestry outcomes.
“The program is different because it encourages landowners to first work with their local conservation district foresters to discuss and map out goals, and then bring in the private forest consultants for planning and work on the land,” said Department of Natural Resources director Keith Creagh.
Nellis said it could start with a call from a private landowner asking about options. He’ll arrange a site visit and walk the property with the owner. Nellis then will write a short referral with what the owner wants and send that out to a list of consulting foresters that work in the area.
Working through an established local network of private consultants, agency staff, industry representatives, timber buyers and conservation organizations, the conservation district foresters and landowners will plan a course of action to best meet the landowners objectives.
Nellis said the ultimate goal is “Moving the whole forestry industry forward in Michigan. There has been a lack of product coming off of private lands, mostly because of the apprehension of private landowner’s to having commercial timber sales.’
Ralph Stedman, Presque Isle County’s district administrator, said it is a yearly grant process.
“So, depending on my performance and the success of the program, it will have to be renewed on a yearly basis,” said Nellis. His office hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., but he will be available at the convenience of landowners.
Nellis is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, cycling, kayaking, Nordic skiing, and just about anything to do with spending time outside.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, DNR and local conservation districts partnered on this initiative.