Ohio has a long history of public policy towards supporting and encouraging responsible management of working forests. Even with 11 million residents and seven major metropolitan areas, Over 30% of its land is forested equating to 7,784,000 acres.
Forestry and the forest products industry is a 13 billion dollar industry in Ohio. It represents 70,000 jobs and generates an average payroll of 1 billion dollars placing Ohio 7th in the nation in forest related employment. Between 300-400 million board feet of timber is harvested annually in Ohio and 1 billion board feet of growth is annually added to the state’s timber supply.
In 1993 then Governor George Voinovich designated the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry as the lead agency for Ohio for the Forest Legacy Program.
The State Forest Stewardship Advisory Committee was established to over-see the development of the Assessment of Need and advise the Division of Forestry on the implementation of the Forest Legacy Program. In addition to input from the State Stewardship Advisory Committee, a series of public input meeting were conducted around Ohio to obtain input from citizens and interest groups.
The State Forest Stewardship Advisory Committee has identified the following threats to Ohio’s forestland and traditional forest uses:
- Fragmentation, conversion, parcelization from development
- Influx of aggressive non-native plant and animal species
- Lack of professional forest management plans
- Livestock grazing
- Insect and disease
The mission of the Ohio Forest Legacy Program as defined by the Committee is to protect working forests, which are defined as a forest with a management plan stating clearly identified management goals that incorporate timber harvesting as an essential management tool.
The Committee also determined that in order to meet these goals the following objectives should be achieved; Foster and connect large and intact forest tracts, protect areas of social, recreational, cultural and historic significance; focus on the most ecological significant areas of the state; support communities by focusing on conserving the most economically significant areas for forest related industries.
Based on the national criteria and the committee’s recommended program goals and eligibility criteria, two Forest Legacy Areas were identified in Ohio, The Grand River Lowlands and the Unglaciated Appalachian Plateau
The Grand River Lowlands Forest Legacy Area is comprised of six counties in northeastern Ohio consisting of 1.8 million acres. This area is characterized by a gently rolling to relatively flat, poorly drained landscape. Several counties within the area comprise the shoreline of Lake Erie. Over 38% of this area is forested, with over 98% in private ownership.
Three streams within this area have been designated as State Scenic Rivers by ODNR and a portion of the Cuyahoga National Recreation Area also is within the Legacy Area. Private land conservation/preservation efforts have been underway by The Nature Conservancy and local land trusts providing an initial “foothold“ of protected land. This region is a significant maple syrup production area of the state and has a large population of Amish wood products industries adding cultural and economic interest and benefit.
Primary threat to the forests in this area is from residential development expanding out from Cleveland and Akron. Specific goals of the Grand River Lowlands FLA are to contribute toward the connection of parcels within the Grand River riparian area; ensure the economic viability of the maple syrup and Amish wood products industries; protect significant ecologically areas and water quality of the areas streams and Scenic Rivers.
The Unglaciated Appalachian Plateau Forest Legacy Area consists of twenty-five counties comprising 7.9 million acres in the southern and east central regions of Ohio.
In contract to the Grand River Lowlands, this area is considered Ohio’s most “rugged” terrain with deep valleys, and high hills. This area also represents the most scenic region of the state due in large part to the sandstone outcroppings forming cliffs, gorges and high-walls. This area contains public landholdings of over 810,000 acres, represented primarily by the Wayne National Forest, several state forests, nature preserves and wildlife areas. But, private ownership still accounts for 89.9% of the landholdings.
This area serves as an “ecological mixing zone” where northern and southern species can be found growing in the same gorge. The Ohio Audubon Society has designated eight areas within this region as Important Birding Areas, most being forested.
This area also contains most of the State’s businesses dependent on forest products and has high tourism associated with forest-based recreation.
This area provides excellent opportunities to protect private working forests that are adjacent to or in close proximity to public forestland.
Threats to this area are primarily from fragmentation and parcelization as well as a lack of professional forest management practices. Specific goals of the Unglaciated Appalachian Plateau FLA include; protecting the state’s largest intact forestland properties; to conserve tracts with high timber resource value, to protect significant ecological areas and riparian corridors; enhance potential forest-related outdoor recreation opportunities and tourism.
In both Forest Legacy Areas the primary means of protection will be the acquisition of conservation easements from willing sellers. Fee acquisition from willing sellers will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.