By Matt Reese
In 1966, Walt and Donna Lange moved from Toledo to the rich farm country outside of Swanton. Walt was a Math teacher for the University of Toledo and was looking for a place to relax, enjoy the countryside and do some hunting. Their 33 acres was mostly in cropland, with around 10 acres in trees.
“In the winter, I can remember the blowing sand drifting onto the road instead of snow,” Donna said. “We started planting a windbreak in 1971 to try and stop some of that blowing sand.”
The initial planting of trees apparently appealed to the Langes because they have not stopped since. The couple was named the 2010 Ohio Tree Farmers of the Year by the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, which is sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
“We’ve probably planted more than 10,000 trees through the years,” Walt said. “Planting trees is our labor of love and we are planting trees someplace every year.”
After that first windbreak, the Langes started to see the difference that the trees made in conserving the soil and they added another windbreak, and then another. Most of the windbreaks were white pine and other evergreens, but as time went on, the Langes added oak, walnut, cherry, bald cyprus and other types of trees to diversify the property.
When the farmer renting their crop ground retired, the Langes just kept planting trees to fill up their property.
“It just seemed like the conservation thing to do,” Walt said. “The trees were holding the soil in place and, as the trees were growing, you wouldn’t believe it, but the native bluestem prairie grass came up everywhere.”
Along with the native plants, birds and critters of all kinds returned to the shelter of the growing Lange forest. Once they filled up their original property with trees, they purchased another piece of land and have been planting trees there.
“Woodland management has never been a priority in this part of the state and a lot of people do not understand how to do it,” Walt said. “Our long term goal here is to produce veneer quality timber, though obviously we’ll never be able to harvest it.”
When the time does come to harvest timber from a woodlot, Walt emphasizes the importance of calling the ODNR or a trusted professional before cutting.
“If you cut timber, you need to work with a professional,” Walt said. “‘Call before you cut’ is a program the state has that lets you consult a service forester. The forester will tell you what trees to cut and what trees to leave behind. One of the biggest problems people have is that they over-cut when they should only be harvesting the mature trees. If you leave the young trees for just 10 more years they will be much more valuable.”
Though it will not be mature enough to harvest for many years, the management of their timber has already begun for the Lange’s trees.
“We prune up the trees, which is a lot of work,” Walt said. “We also thin out the stands to produce quality timber. Now I spend more time trimming the trees than I do hunting.”
The Langes have also put time and money into improving the land in other ways. They added a tile and a drainage control structure to perennially wet areas to form a controlled wetland area.
“It was so wet in some areas that the trees were tipping over because the soil was too wet to hold the roots,” Walt said. “We excavated and connected the wet areas to form a great habitat for ducks, geese and turkeys. And the grandkids like to ice skate out there in the winter.”
While the couple was busy planting trees on their farm, they also got very involved in promoting the benefits of planting trees.
“We were really involved at the state and national level with the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, the Ohio Forestry Association and on the National Operating Committee of the American Tree Farm System,” Donna said.
In addition, the Langes have worked hard to promote the value and benefits of healthy woodlands within the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Forestry Committee, and in partnership with numerous Northwest Ohio soil and water conservation districts.
“Donna and Walt are true ambassadors of forest conservation,” said David Lytle, state forester and chief of the ODNR Division of Forestry. “Their dedication and hard work not only has benefited their land, but has inspired other landowners to realize the full potential of their woodlands.”
The Langes will continue to share their knowledge with others at a field day, which will be free and open to the public, Sept. 25. The event will showcase their forest management activities and celebrate their statewide achievement.
“Forested land in northwest Ohio is not as common as in other parts of the state,” said Thomas Collins, Division of Forestry service forester who advises the Langes and nominated them for the award. “The Langes have applied a variety of forest practices to their woodlands and we like to show off the results to other tree farmers and landowners. They make forestry fun.”
According to the ODNR, Ohio grows more acres of trees than corn and soybeans combined, which is just fine with the Langes. They enjoy their land covered in trees and the legacy of soil and environmental conservation they are leaving future generations, Walt said. “Watching the trees is a whole lot neater than watching the sand blow.”
To learn more about Ohio’s Tree Farm Program or woodlands, visit the Division of Forestry’s Web site at www.ohiodnr.com/forestry. For more about the field day visit http://www.ohioforest.org/pdf/2010TFTour.pdf, or contact your local SWCD or Walt and Donna at 419-825-5792.