INTERVIEW with Chad Sanders, Land Management Administrator, Division of Forestry
What do you do to support sustainable development in Ohio?
I administer the timber sale program on state forests managed by the Division of Forestry. The program is designed to benefit state forests and the state’s economy. The timber is sold by competitive bid to Ohio’s $15 billion forest industry that employs over 119,000 people. We sell standing trees and then give the purchaser the right to enter state forest property and remove the trees. We supervise this process carefully by marking trees to be harvested and observing their actual removal as seen in the photos below. The state forests are working forests that provide not only a diversity of wildlife habitats but also forest products that are enjoyed by nearly everyone.
How does harvesting improve forests?
Each year we evaluate certain areas to see if harvesting can be beneficial. Harvesting can improve the overall health and condition of the forest by removing trees of poor health and vigor that are prone to attack from insects and disease. It also can reduce the stands susceptibility to natural disturbances such as wildfire and ice storms.
There are a wide variety of plants and animals, including many species on the state’s rare and threatened list that benefit from the disturbance harvesting causes. This is because disturbance enhances the amount of light by opening up the canopy, increasing the amount of nutrients that are available to plants. Oak trees are one example.
Many scientists believe the oak/hickory forests are declining and being replaced by more shade tolerant species such as red maple due to the lack of openings in the forest. Through harvesting we can create conditions more suitable for oak trees to regenerate from acorns.
Do you manage forests in any other ways?
Yes. Ironically we sometimes use fire to prevent fires by initiating prescribed burns where we carefully set a fire so we can control its spread. We use prescribed fire for several reasons. It can prevent fires by eliminating underbrush and woody debris that fuel fires. Prescribed fires can eliminate thinned-barked, undesirable trees, while creating conditions suitable for the regeneration of desired plants. Prescribed fires also promote the new growth of grasses and herbaceous plants sought by wildlife.
Other forest management methods we use include planting trees from our state nursery to expand forest-land or reclaim strip-mined land. To promote forest growth and vigor, we often eradicate grapevines by cutting them or spraying them with herbicide.
How much timber is harvested from state forests and where does the money go?
Our timber harvests are sustainable. Between 8 million and 10 million board feet of timber are harvested annually from our state forests. Conservative estimates show that we are growing at least 20 million board feet annually. That means our harvests are far below what is growing, increasing forested land each year. Two-thirds of the revenues from timber sales are given back to the local community, including local school districts. We call it the Trees to Textbooks program. Last year we distributed nearly $2 million dollars to some of the most economically challenged counties in the state. The state keeps the remaining revenue.
Can all state forests be harvested for timber?
No. Areas that have a special quality either from the species present or their unique features are protected through a system of zoning that prohibits development. We only conduct active forest management in areas that will not be negatively affected by it.
What is most challenging about your job?
It has always been a challenge to convince people that harvesting on public land is good management and has a lot of benefits. There is a delicate balance between meeting the economic needs of Ohioans and protecting sensitive natural resources. The great thing about trees is they are our most readily renewable resource.