Hitting the ground running: Ohio Tree Farm Inspector of the Year is new, but not green

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A man kneels next to part of a tree on the ground and measures it with a tape measure.
Ryan Clester, of Salem, Ohio, has only been a state service forester for about three years, but his confidence and knowledge have made a strong impression on tree farmers and other foresters in the area. He was named the 2020 Ohio Tree Farm Inspector of the Year. (Submitted photo)

Ryan Clester had to take a moment to think when asked about the challenges of his job as a state service forester for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

He covers Mahoning, Columbiana, Stark, Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, working out of Salem, Ohio. He’s just under three years into the job, which involves working with landowners on forestry practices and programs, putting together educational events for tree farmers and inspecting tree farms. And there doesn’t seem to be much that fazes him.

“No, I don’t think there’s really too many challenges with the job,” Clester said.

His confidence, commitment and knowledge stand out to the people who work with him. Though he’s still fairly new to the job, he was selected as the 2020 Ohio Tree Farm Inspector of the Year, by the Ohio Tree Farm Program.

“He hit the ground running when he got the job up here,” said Dave Hively, of Misty Maples Sugar House, in Salem.

Jim Elze, of LZ Forestree Consulting, in Salem, agreed.

“I’m really impressed with him,” Elze said. “He’s a very confident fellow. That comes across well to landowners.”

Background

Clester grew up in Iowa, participating in camps and other programs with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“I’ve always been outside growing up,” he said.

He went to Ohio State University and studied forest ecological system science and management. During college, he interned with the ONDR, and then got the job in Salem when he graduated. While he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he first started at Ohio State, he quickly started going down the forestry path.

“It seems like you can actually accomplish something and get a lot of stuff done, being a forester,” Clester said.

Education, Clester said, is important for becoming a forester. There is a high barrier to entry, and he recommends that young people interested in forestry get involved with programs like Camp Canopy, a forestry and wildlife camp held at FFA Camp Muskingum, in Carroll County, that includes opportunities to compete for scholarships, to learn more before getting a forestry degree.

Between high school and college, Clester spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. It’s a completely different job than being a forester. But he learned a lot.

“You grow up really quick, thrust into different jobs and roles that you might not think you’re ready for,” he said. “It helps you overcome stuff really quick.”

Respect

Clester’s confidence carries through to the landowners who work with him, Elze said. If a forester comes across as too green, landowners might hesitate to trust them. But Clester doesn’t have that problem, Elze said.

“He just comes across real well with any private landowners he works with,” Elze said. “People have a lot of confidence in him … I’m really pleased with having him in here.”

Elze used to hold the same position that Clester now has. He retired early from that job in 2006 and has been working on his own private consulting business since then. He and Clester work together quite a bit.

Projects

Clester, Elze said, is very proactive. Some forests in the five counties Clester covers have had problems with oak wilt, a fungus that can kill oak trees. Elze said after researching and learning more about oak wilt, Clester is now “pretty much the expert forester on oak wilt.”

“He doesn’t waver on things. He researches them well. He’s a pretty smart guy,” Elze said.

Elze and Clester are currently working on a property in the Lisbon area that is dealing with oak wilt. To help landowners learn about how to identify it and how to deal with it, Clester has put articles in the North Eastern Ohio Forestry Association newsletter and presented programs on oak wilt at meetings.

While he has been doing a lot of work on oak wilt control in the area, he isn’t overly concerned about it.

“It’s not something to be alarmist about, either,” he said.

Award

The Ohio Tree Farm Program is the Ohio branch of the American Tree Farm System.

“He’s extremely well-deserving of that award,” said Adam Beichler, program administrator for the Ohio Tree Farm Program.

Just a few years in, he’s worked on a number of educational programs for tree farmers. He is a board member for the North Eastern Ohio Forestry Association and helps identify topics to cover and find speakers, in addition to giving his own presentations to the association.

He currently serves as the Area 2 Chair for the Ohio Tree Farm Committee. In this role, he organizes inspections for American Tree Farm System-certified tree farms in 12 northeastern Ohio counties. He has visited and inspected many farms.

Hively said Clester has helped with events like his maple syrup open houses, as well. Hively enjoys how active Clester is in the forestry industry. Being an Ohio State graduate and fan doesn’t hurt, either.

“We were certainly blessed to get him,” Hively said.

“He’s basically been the face of forestry in the area program for the last few years,” Beichler said.

This year

This year, things have been a bit different, due to the pandemic. Clester was supposed to organize the Ohio Tree Farm Tour, since he nominated the tree farm of the year.

“That is extremely involved,” Beichler said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work … showing the initiative to do something like that is impressive as well.”

That work now involves working on an alternative tour, since in-person was canceled. Clester is helping the farm organize a virtual tour.

Clester’s main work has a service forester has not changed much, though he does take more safety precautions, like social distancing during visits with landowners.

“People are still interested to learn about stuff and want to be outside,” he said.

And that’s the part of the job that he’s excited about.

“I like helping landowners meet their goals on their property,” Clester said. “Walking properties with like-minded individuals and teaching them how to best manage their resources.”

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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