Twin threats - invading forces of nature and the uncertainties of human nature - pose increasing danger for the future of north central Ohio's forests. Fortunately, local environmentalists, professional foresters and educators are working toward an important part of the solution.
A much-abused but essential resource for the growth of Ohio in its first 100 years, our forests recovered remarkably throughout the second century of statehood. But the pace of reforestation has stalled in recent years, as economic and natural forces have combined to challenge the health of Ohio woodlands.
New dangers include an alarming array of exotic, invasive pests and diseases that pose increasing threats to our forest lands and urban trees. One such pest is the Emerald Ash Borer, an exotic insect which is devastating Michigan and has afflicted trees in Columbus, Findlay and Toledo. The borer has the potential to kill Ohio's approximately 3.8 billion ash trees, much as a fungal blight so quickly eliminated our once plentiful American Chestnut. And it's not just the borer. Also of local concern are numerous invasive species, including gypsy moths, which have already killed so many trees at Mohican-Memorial State Forest.
Perhaps even more threatening to our forests is a looming turnover in ownership of the region's privately owned woodlands - potentially thousands of forested acres each year. Estate-planning consultants predict that, nationally, more than $11 trillion in personal and property assets will be transferred from parents to their children over the next decade. Consider what that means for the 90% of Ohio's forested land that is held in private ownership, mostly by landowners in their 60s or older.
As Ohio families inherit forested acres, and are overwhelmed by estate-tax bills, many will face financial and personal decisions that have a tremendous long-term impact on our forests. The trend is already apparent to anyone driving through the Ohio countryside, where more and more homes are being built on what had once been farmland and forests.
Fortunately, our region is well-equipped to address this conflict, given its proud heritage of conservation leadership, stewardship and education.
From OSU Extension Agent Edward Faulkner and his best-selling A Plowman's Folly, to Oberlin College Professor Paul Sears and his Deserts on the March, inspired conservationists from north central Ohio have played critical roles in promoting the protection and wise use of our natural resources. Arguably, no one in America did more to promote conservation education in his day than Louis Bromfield at Malabar Farm. Leaders such as Bromfield, Faulkner and Sears inspired an ethic of environmental stewardship and care for the land that continues to this day throughout this part of Ohio. It is an ethic based on education as the key to convincing Ohio's next generation of private forest landowners to maintain their acres in healthy, well-managed woodlands.
Education can demonstrate the economic value of good forest management and help owners of forest lands understand that they can have both economic returns and a beautiful woods. The important word here is "demonstrate" - giving landowners an opportunity to learn by observing forest management and a variety of conservation practices in the real world. Seeing this demonstrated, the option of selling land for other uses becomes less appealing.
This concept is the basis for a new Forest Demonstration Area being developed in a portion of Mohican-Memorial State Forest in southern Ashland County. Guided by the conservation ethic of Bromfield, Sears, Faulkner and others, the ODNR Division of Forestry and a diverse group of researchers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and environmental advocates have carefully developed a plan to create this unique, permanent educational resource - unavailable anywhere else in northern Ohio.
The forest stewardship that will be exhibited on this 167-acre site will be a springboard for forest education and improvement for possibly hundreds-of-thousands-of-acres in northern Ohio. This is a continuation of the more than 80 years of forest demonstration at Mohican.
Plans for this Forest Demonstration Area have been widely and enthusiastically endorsed and supported by more than two dozen organizations and a dozen individual environmentalists, educators, researchers, tree farmers and private landowners. A short list of involved parties includes
- the Audubon Society,
- OSU Extension and
- researchers from Ashland University,
- Hocking College, the College of Wooster,
- Mt. Vernon Nazarene University and
- The Ohio State University.
Support of this scope is a tribute to our region's proud conservation heritage and a welcome sign that so many appreciate the real and present danger facing Ohio's forests. Louis Bromfield and his friends would be proud.