There is a familiar saying, You cant see the forest for the trees. And for any Ohioan owning a tract of forested land, that old adage is especially true when it comes to judging the overall health of their woodlot.
Healthy forests arent always apparent to the untrained eye. Its more than a matter of sizing up the health of each individual tree. A healthy, well-tended woodlot is one that is free of invasive species, diverse in the size and types of its trees, and a welcoming home to birds and other wildlife.
For most Ohioans who own woodland properties, knowing how to recognize that healthy balance or ways to achieve it will mean relying upon professional advice. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) offers just that, through its team of service foresters. On request, state service foresters will visit privately owned woodlands to lend their professional advice and expertise. Working hand-in-hand with landowners, service forester can help them improve their woodlands, as one Medina County woman learned.
A decades-old photograph of Diana Halls 50-acre woods gave her more than a nostalgic peek into the past. "Someone gave me an original picture of my farm's barn and maple shack," Hall said. "I noticed how different the woods in the background looked way back then."
Over the 16 years she owned the property, Hall said that time and again she resisted suggestions to remove any trees. As a result, the overgrown woodland was choked with grapevines, and many trees were in a sad state of decline.
Inspired by the old photo to return her woodlot to a more productive state, she contacted one of ODNRs service foresters. After visiting her property, the state forester advised her on ways to cut back and permanently remove thigh-thick grapevines, which were choking out healthier growth. He also suggested she thin some older, less healthy trees in order to give younger ones room to thrive. The outcome? Two years later, Hall's woodlot is starting to resemble its former self.
The efforts of state service foresters, available free of charge, help improve Ohio's privately held forests millions of acres that play a vital role in the state's economy and environment.
Our states woodlands are renewable resources, said John Dorka, chief of the ODNR Division of Forestry. Service foresters help private property owners develop a blueprint for the future of their valued trees, so those resources can flourish.
Dorka said ODNR service foresters write management plans for about 40,000 acres of private woodlands each year. Foresters analyze the existing woods, then create a long-term strategy that property owners can use to improve the health of existing trees, nurture successful new plantings and aid in the harvest of mature or damaged timber. The only downside: their services are so popular, theres often a waiting list. Its not unusual to have a three-month backlog for an appointment, but as time is measured by a forest, thats not so long a wait, Dorka said.
Woodland management goals vary, from creating wildlife-friendly habitats to fostering recreational resources, such as hiking trails. Some landowners manage their forests with an eye to periodic timber harvests, or maple syrup production, while others are simply interested in improving the aesthetic and environmental value of their woodlot.
Medina County accountant Dave Schneider thought the abundance of sugar maples on his mostly wooded 15-acre property near Hinckley held a "sweet" promise of a second income. His enthusiasm for conservation, combined with the long-held dream of producing maple sugar, led him to contact ODNR.
In 1999, an ODNR service forester walked Schneider's northeastern Ohio woods for a few hours and saw the potential just waiting to be tapped. He answered Schneider's questions about tree pruning and spacing and provided guidance on eliminating nuisance plant species. In time, he wrote a management plan that included planting two additional acres of maples and other trees as a reforestation project. The plan became the basis of an environmentally sound and successful cottage industry. Last year, he sold 42 gallons of commercial maple syrup through local retailers.
Foresters suggest plantings based on the presence of neighboring tree and plant species, taking into consideration any insects and diseases that might be lurking there. Once established, those trees provide a positive impact on the local environment.
Bob Baum intends to make his 46-acre homestead in Stark County a legacy for his grandchildren to enjoy. In the Baum family for 120 years, the property had at one time been strip-mined, but now is well on its way toward restoration, thanks to a plan devised with the help of a state service forester. Today, more than 12,400 trees, including red and white oak, ash, hickory, Norway spruce and white pine, are growing on Bob Baums property. Most of these trees started as seedlings from ODNRs state tree nursery in Marietta.
Some Ohio landowners manage their forests for both conservation and profit. Gordon Santee, who owns 95-acres of woods in Mahoning County, understands the value of listening to the expert advice of state foresters. Over the years, several foresters visited his woods, marking saleable trees and advising him on ways to increase the health and productivity of his forest. A landowner since 1946, Santee has initiated three forest improvement projects with a fourth anticipated in coming months.
Whether your goal is to create a better habitat for wildlife, increase hunting opportunities, improve your timber crop, or simply to have a healthier woodland, consider contacting one of ODNRs state service foresters. For more information call 614-265-6694 or visit the ODNR web site at ohiodnr.com .