Johnny Appleseed may have started it all, but certainly he wasnt the last. From pioneer times to the present, Ohio has a long history of concern for the conservation and stewardship of our states natural resources. Thats not to say that attitudes havent changed and that Ohioans approach to conservation hasnt evolved over time.
Early settlers in our developing state faced few restrictions on their use of Ohios fertile soil, abundant water, forests and wildlife resources. But overuse and abuse did not go unnoticed and public policies were developed to preserve and protect the resources that remained.
In 1916 with a goal of restoring Ohios forested lands the state began acquiring deforested farmlands, abandoned strip mine lands and severely over-cut and neglected woodlands (see the 1920's picture at left of Zaleski State Forest land). Proactive state foresters took an innovative approach, developing a strategy that involved planting millions of trees and continual management of those trees to ensure a healthy, diverse woodland. Today, much of that management responsibility has been placed with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Much of Ohios reforestation success involved planting seedlings grown at state tree nurseries, which began operations in the early 1900s. Those efforts continue today, with tree nurseries in Marietta and Zanesville growing and distributing five million seedlings each year. Over the past century, the state has grown and helped plant more than 500 million seedlings.
After decades of wise stewardship, Ohio now boasts 20 state forests, covering more than 184,000 acres. Oversight of these lands includes continuous tree planting and forest maintenance for such purposes as watershed and soil protection, the production and utilization of timber, recreation, aesthetics and wildlife habitat.
An essential part of keeping our forests healthy, according to state forestry expert Bill Schultz, is the use of limited timber harvesting.
In modern Ohio, timber harvesting can be an emotional issue, said Schultz. Some think cutting down trees is harmful to the forest and disruptive to the natural balance. However, when properly harvested, it is the same thing nature does, but more quickly.
Schultz said foresters undertake projects each year at various state forests, focusing on improving the forests overall health and diversity. Forest improvement projects include removing trees that have reached full maturity or trees that are in poor condition. On average, Ohio annually undertakes timber management activities on 1,500 acres thats less than one percent of the state forest land base.
The vast majority of these management projects use selective harvesting techniques that remove individual trees from within a section of forest. A very small portion of the projects involve limited clear cutting, which is chosen when woods are in poor condition due to factors such as insect infestation, disease, fire and past abuse. When selected trees or limited areas of woodland are chosen for harvest, all work is conducted by certified companies who must follow strict contract requirements and monitoring.
Not only do these projects strengthen the health of our forests, they also have been shown to benefit wildlife, including deer, grouse, turkeys, songbirds and insects such as butterflies.
Even Ohios endangered timber rattlesnake benefits from timber harvesting. My experience is that logging has been positive for the timber rattlesnake, said Doug Wynn, an Ohio snake ecologist. Wynn explained that female rattlers seek out sun-exposed areas when they are incubating eggs. He added all snakes need the suns warming rays particularly when they are shedding their skins.
These types of sound forest management activities also have a positive impact on Ohio schools and communities located near timber harvest projects.
Ohio requires 40 percent of the revenues generated from any timber harvest on state forest land be distributed to local school districts in the county where the project took place nearly $750,000 this year. Another 40 percent of revenue is dispersed in equal shares to the local county and township governments. The remaining funds are deposited in the states General Revenue fund and does not benefit either ODNR or its Division of Forestry.
Foresters praise the work and dedication of their predecessors to create the diverse state forests we now enjoy. They believe that ongoing management efforts will continue to improve Ohios forests and build upon the modern-day record of 33 percent forest cover we see today.
The rebirth of Ohios forest is one of the states greatest management success stories creating a state forest system that benefits the environment, outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife and the timber needs of today and tomorrow. Johnny Appleseed would be proud.