Management plans for Ohio forests

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We all feel the seasonal change in the air, and now we are starting to see it in the signs of autumn around us. While plenty of indicators pointed to the end of summer, nothing is more commented on than the changing color of the leaves.

With cooler weather and changing light, the palette of Holmes County in the fall is one of the many things that brings “leaf peepers” to the area. And as the coronavirus lingers, leaf-inspired tourism will be a safe and “normal” activity to immerse ourselves in.

A trip to local, state or even national parks and forests get a lot of attention as memorable autumn adventures, but around here, we are fortunate to be immersed in a tree-filled environment that makes even our everyday activities an ever-shifting tapestry through the progression of the season.

Woodlands

I had never really considered that in addition to the miracles of photosynthesis and plant biology, we owe these scenic drives to the many thousands of landowners who have chosen to maintain their ground as forest.

In Ohio, we’ve rebounded to roughly eight million acres of woodland, covering approximately 30% of the state. And despite our many public areas, over 85% of those acres are privately-owned. One thing that seems to have gotten lost in the news this year is that the Division of Forestry was set to update the Ohio Forest Action Plan, for the first time since 2010.

Beginning in January, stakeholder meetings were held to gather input about the state of Ohio’s forests. That helped build a framework to encourage resource personnel across the state, whether in the private or public sector, to be working with landowners to “conserve, protect and enhance” Ohio’s forests.

Issues

The six key issues identified for Ohio’s forests are:

1. Sustainable forest management on all forest lands

2. Public benefits from Ohio’s forests

3. Conservation of soil and water resources

4. Conservation of biological diversity

5. Threats to forest health

6. Forest fragmentation, parcelization and loss

The action plan is available to review on the Division of Forestry’s website, but keeping these six issues in mind will help with your choices to manage for wildlife, timber, recreation or your family legacy.

Management

Each family and business that owns these woods have their own reasons how and why they keep these forests. We may choose to think of them as working lands, or places of solitude, where “work” is the last thing on your mind.

What you may not realize though, is that whatever your intent, planning for these areas is critical to keeping these sites in line with your goals, and for the local and regional health of other woodlands in your area.

A formal plan might seem like overkill if you are comfortable with the condition of your woods, but there are so many benefits to identifying your goals in writing, for you and your family to continue to refer back to. Management plans for forests are required to participate in certain government programs, and can benefit you financially through tax-abatement.

Even choosing not to lift a finger or change a thing about your woods is a management style, and there will be things to consider if this is your preference.

If you have ever wondered if or how you could do more to improve the health of your forest, or what some of your options might be to make them more personally enjoyable, financially viable, or environmentally sustainable, there are myriad resources available to help you tackle one or all of the issues listed above.

However, I would like to encourage you to find local forestry professionals, public or private, who can work with you to help identify your priorities and opportunities. Your local Soil and Water Conservation District is a good place to start.

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