Historical Map of White Pine Growth Areas
Young and mature eastern white pine trees; photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli on Flickr (use permitted with attribution).
Michigan designated the towering eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) as the official state tree in March 4, 1955 as a symbol of Michigan’s rich logging history.
Starting in the 1860s and for the next 40 years, Michigan was synonymous with pine lumbering, a dangerous and lucrative business. A vast belt of white pine grew across the Lower Peninsula and parts of the Upper Peninsula — towering cathedrals of Pinus strobus that could grow as tall as 175 feet, with stumps 8 feet in diameter. In addition, Michigan was blessed with a network of rivers and creeks to transport the timbered logs to mills.
A few old growth forests, or virgin stands remain in Michigan : Estivant Pines, Huron Mountains, Porcupine Mountains State Park, and Sylvania Wilderness Area in the Upper Peninsula; and Hartwick Pines State Park in the Lower Peninsula.
For the full article, see Bill Loomis, “Shanty boys, river hogs and the forests of Michigan”, Detroit News, April 8, 2012.
For more information, see Theodore J. Karamanski, Deep woods frontier : a history of logging in northern Michigan. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1989.
For those who like historical fiction, consider reading Barkskins by Annie Proulx. Plot: In the late seventeenth century two young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a native woman and their descendants live trapped between two cultures. But Duquet runs away, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Annie Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse. The larger story “Barkskins” has to tell is about arrogant white Christian men coming to subdue the “evil” wilderness, raping the land and culturally annihilating the Native Americans as they march along. It is a novel about human infestation, about greed, about virgin landscapes filled suddenly with “insufferable whiteman stink.” And part of that story includes harvesting the white pine forests of Michigan.