What are Natural Resource Enterprises in Michigan?

MSU Extension has started to develop a new program initiative to provide more information to landowners interested in pursuing natural resource enterprises in Michigan.

People who own forest land in Michigan have many different ownership objectives. Hunters might value their land most for hunting access and to improve the habitat for wildlife, for others the land might be part of a homestead farm or a lakeside cottage property. Landowners on a homestead farm might be interested in trying to use their land to produce food, fiber or other consumable products. Consequently, any activity that a landowner engages in to improve the property for some particular use, product or service can be called an enterprise. If it involves any of Michigan’s abundant natural resources (i.e. forests, wildlife, water and related resources), it can be further categorized as a “natural resource enterprise.”

Many people equate the term “enterprise” with business-related activities and natural resources enterprises can be undertaken with commercial implications in mind. However, for many Michigan landowners, undertaking a natural resource enterprise might only be to enhance existing natural conditions or to increase the output of a certain “product” or service and not necessarily for financial gain. Take the example of maple syrup as a natural resource enterprise. People can tap a few maple trees on their property to make syrup for fun or for personal use or they can tap hundreds of trees on their land to produce maple syrup as a commercial business enterprise.

Michigan residents have, to some degree, been participating in natural resource enterprises ever since the state was settled. While over time our population in Michigan has evolved from an agrarian society to more of an industrialized society, many people today still pursue natural resource enterprises on their land for recreational, lifestyle or even for practical purposes.

To illustrate the depth and breadth of natural resource enterprises in Michigan, a researcher surveyed the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan in 1998 to document the various ways that residents used forests for both personal and commercial use. Marla Emery, the researcher, identified over 138 different products gathered from the forests of the U.P. These products ranged from edibles, to medicinals, to ceremonials and decorative products. Most of those documented (over 60 percent) were for personal use. Commercially, decorative products and edibles constituted the largest use in raw or processed form.

While this is one example involving forests, Michigan is blessed with an abundance of natural resources across this state. Thus there are many opportunities for landowners to participate in some type of natural resource enterprise. This is one of the reasons that MSU Extension is undertaking its own new “enterprise” to focus on natural resource enterprises in Michigan. Over the next several months, MSU Extension will feature some of the more common natural resource enterprise opportunities in Michigan. The information provided will include useful information on how to make or undertake an enterprise as well as provide information on some of the legal, regulatory and/or financial aspects that need to be considered with these enterprises. In addition, MSU Extension will address some of the ecological and sustainability issues that need to be considered – especially when natural resource enterprises are pursued on a large-scale.

For a “sampling” of what MSU Extension is just starting to develop in this area, visit the new MSUE Natural Resource Enterprise webpage.

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