Seeing what a healthy woods can be

By Kyle Sharp

A healthy forest takes time to develop. It is not something that happens overnight.

A couple times over the years, the small, 10-acre woods on my family’s farm has been logged. While this is not a problem if it is done properly, let’s just say, to be generous, leaving a sustainable forest behind was not what was going through the minds of the guys who hacked through our land. I wasn’t involved with the process, so I guess I can’t really complain too much, but seeing the aftermath that is still very evident years later is quite frustrating.

Leaving large gaps in the forest canopy allowed plenty of sunlight to reach the forest floor, and the result has been large clumps of grapevines and invasive species springing up that make it nearly impossible to even walk through the woods in many places. This has made it difficult for new trees to get established because they are crowded out by the shrubs and vines. Those trees that are trying to push through the mess are growing poorly and don’t appear healthy because of all the vines growing on them. And in spots, the trees that are growing are ones I’d rather not have … those primarily being honey locusts with those big nasty thorns that can punch through tires, boots and heifer hooves.

I had a forester out last year to develop a management plan to improve the situation, and while she did a great job, I sadly haven’t found the time or money to do anything with it yet. However, I found some much needed inspiration yesterday, March 22, when I spent almost four hours on the Athens County property of Steve Stone, the 2011 Ohio Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year.

The state Outstanding Tree Farmer honor is awarded annually by the Ohio Tree Farm Committee, which plans and administers the Ohio Tree Farm Program.  The Ohio Forestry Association and the ODNR Division of Forestry are sponsors of the committee.

The Ohio Tree Farm Program, organized in 1946, brings foresters together with landowners to apply the American Tree Farm System standards of sustainable forest management in Ohio. Stone has spent almost 20 years improving the forest on his property, which buts up against the Wayne National Forest just south of Nelsonville. The sustainable forestry practices Stone has done include boundary line marking, access road and trail improvements, grapevine and invasive species control, wildlife food plots, crop tree release and selective timber harvesting.

The results are evident. If you stand on a township road that runs along the eastern edge of his property and look at his woods on one side of the road and the unmanaged Wayne National Forest on the other, it is like night and day. Stone’s woods have an open floor and healthy trees growing straight and tall. The woods on the other side of the road look much like mine, with large clumps of vines and invasive shrubs cluttering the view and impeding the growth of species that are natural to the eastern hardwood forest.

After sharing with Stone the condition of my woods, he offered some very sound advice. Don’t think of it as something you have to do all at once, because that is too much work and will kill you. Instead, think of it as a long-term five- to 10-year process, and work on little bits at a time. Start with clearing out the grapevines a few acres at a time. This will allow the native trees to grow and create a canopy that eventually will naturally kill off a lot of the invasives, such as multiflora rose, which require sunlight to survive. After a few years, you’ll look back and be amazed at the difference that has been made.

So, that is my goal and my inspiration. Now, about that extra time and money …

Read more about Steve Stone and his forestry efforts in the upcoming April issue of Ohio’s Country Journal. His story will be the Country Life feature. Landowners interested in the American Tree Farm System should visit www.ohiotreefarm.org. To learn more about Ohio’s woodlands, visit www.ohiodnr.com/forestry.

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