ATHENS — Local agencies are looking back on and looking ahead to the state of Ohio’s forests.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Division of Forestry held a stakeholder meeting at its District 4 office in Athens on Jan. 28 to give area residents a chance to ask questions and give input about the department’s upcoming Forest Action Plan.
The purpose of the Forest Action Plan, which is mandated by the 2008 Federal Farm Bill, will be used by the Ohio Division of Forestry, as well as existing and potential partners, to marshal limited resources towards addressing identified issues and threats to Ohio’s forests. The first plan was completed in 2010.
Tom Macy, Forest Health Program Administrator and coordinator of the Forest Action Plan update, highlighted some key features of the 2020 draft of the Forest Action Plan. First, he provided data about the state’s forests.
Ohio currently has 7.9 million acres of forestland, taking up roughly 30 percent of the state; 88 percent of that forestland is reportedly privately owned, and the remaining 12 percent is owned by local, state and federal government agencies, according to the Division of Forestry.
A majority of Southeast Ohio was identified as a rural “priority forest area” for the 2010 Forest Action Plan. This priority area spans over 17 counties.
Priority forest areas are places of focus for federal funding that ODNR applies for. The department used different metrics to determine priority areas for rural and urban forest areas for the 2010 plan, Macy said. For example, for rural forests, the department looked for high-quality streams, higher integrity forest patches, rare and threatened species, and more.
A majority of the counties included in these priority areas have a higher percentage of forest coverage. In other words, these counties consist of mostly forestland.
Vinton County has a forest coverage of 79 percent, the second highest percentage in the state. Hocking County, the highest, has a forest coverage of 80 percent, and neighboring Athens County’s percentage is 74, according to the 2020 draft of the Forest Action Plan.
Vinton County also has the largest forest acreage per capita statewide (17.3).
This priority forest area will be revisited and may be revised for the 2020 final plan. Metrics to determine where priority areas exist may not be the same as those used for the 2010 forest action plan. However, Southeast Ohio will likely be identified as a priority area again, Macy said.
“A lot of agencies have come together to try to work in this part of the state,” he said. He noted many state and federal entities have begun or are continuing forestry projects in Southeast Ohio.
Vinton County’s forestland has seen many new projects and opportunities since the last Forest Action Plan. The Moonville in Brown Township, for example, received major grant funding to construct multiple bridges. A shooting range also re-opened at Zaleski State Forest in 2018.
During the open house, Macy also outlined emerging threats featured in the 2020 draft: wildfire, weather events and climate change, to name a few. Climate change, in particular, could result in the loss of various species of plant after certain levels of carbon emissions are reached.
He also pointed to the growth of the prevalence of invasive species statewide: the Emerald Ash borer and Asian Longhorned Beetle, to name a few. However, increases in wildlife populations are not limited to invasive species. ODNR has witnessed an increase in deer and wild turkey populations throughout the state.
The open house also included breakout sessions for attendees, giving them a chance to outline what they believe to be key issues, threats, and opportunities in their Division of Forestry district. Attendees voiced concern with topics like forest parcelization (smaller properties of forest in an area being sold for different purposes), impacts of climate change on forests and wildlife, and the decline of a young tree generation.
The Division of Wildlife’s 2020 Forest Action Plan is expected to be completed by June of 2020. A stakeholder survey is available on the Ohio Division of Forestry’s website.
Sydney Dawes is the editor of The Courier