By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer
Story Created: Dec 12, 2007 at 8:54 PM EST
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A cherished way of life may be changing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, with new owners of vast forest tracts putting up fences and reducing public access long taken for granted, says a report issued Wednesday.
For more than a century, residents and visitors have had little trouble finding places to hike, ride snowmobiles, hunt deer and fish for trout across the peninsula. Woodlands cover 8.5 million acres — 79 percent of its land base — and the economy is built around forest products and tourism.
About half the forest land is private. Timber and paper companies kept most of it open for public recreation in exchange for tax breaks.
But real estate trusts and investment companies are becoming the U.P.'s new land barons, having bought nearly 1.6 million acres in recent years. They see the forests as an investment rather than just a timber source for mills, says the report by a team of university researchers and environmental groups.
Their long-term plans are not clear, the report says. But such companies are more inclined to sell parcels for real estate. They manage forests for timber but their logging policies may be based more on maximizing profits for far-flung shareholders than the needs of local mills, it says.
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