The DNR will pay you for red pine cones this September
From September 1-30, you could get $75 for each bushel of red pine cones you pick. That's thanks to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' reforestation program. They're hoping to bulk up their supply of red pine seeds, and plant more trees, mostly in state forests.
The DNR wants cones in good condition: they should be picked right off a red pine tree. Red pine needles grow in pairs and are four to six inches in length, and the bark is red and craggy. If the cones are brown and open, they're no good: they should be closed, with a green or purple tint to them.
Once you've picked the cones, they should be stored in mesh bags in a cool, dry place. The DNR can provide you with onion bags at drop off locations. Don't use burlap or plastic bags, as they can hold in too much moisture and ruin the quality of the pine cones.
Jason Hartman is a silviculturalist with the DNR and coordinates the department's reforestation program. He said the DNR has a couple thousand pounds of jack pine seeds, but not as many red pine seeds as it would like.
"We’re running short on red pine seeds, and the cones for red pines are more difficult to collect. They’re less abundant in general, and they’re just harder to find, because oftentimes you actually have to pick them off the branches," he said.
He said jack pine seeds are often easier to collect because they collect in squirrel caches and are generally more abundant. Red pine cones need to be picked right off the tree, and are less abundant throughout the state—which Hartman said means more hands on deck, and more need for reforestation.
"Due to the difficulty in collecting the cones, it takes a lot of people. You know, so I think one person picking for the day can pick two bushels. We’re after, obviously, a lot more than that. So I think that’s the biggest area where folks can help right now," he said.
In recent years, Hartman said the challenges of seed collection and reforestation have only grown more apparent—leading to the department enlisting citizen scientists with this effort.
"You know, and as all these reforestation needs grow with climate change and things, it's just becoming pretty clear that we don't have the capacity. And so we need to build it," he said. "Maybe there's some other things that we can explore in the future, but right now it's really this red pine cone collection objective where we're seeing a shortage."
During the month of September, you can drop off your cones at one of six DNR locations: three in the Upper Peninsula, and three in the Lower Peninsula. The U.P. locations are in Marquette, Newberry, and the Wyman Nursery in Manistique. The Lower Peninsula locations are in Cadillac, Gaylord, and Roscommon. You should also register through the DNR's website to get paid for your efforts.