A Cut Above

The rumble of Jeff Whitcraft’s truck as it climbs a makeshift road of dirt and rock into a Hocking County forest is probably not what you expect environmentalism to sound like.

And when the trees give way to a 20-acre barren swath of sticks and straw, it’s probably not what you’d expect environmentalism to look like.

But Whitcraft, a second generation logger and Ohio Farm Bureau member, is as “green” as it gets when it comes to caring for the land.

“If I don’t protect (the environment), it won’t be here for future generations. So we’ve got to do that,” he said.

And he sees this stretch of newly vacant land as a beginning, not an end.

“We’re making room for something new to grow. We’re creating jobs. And we’re producing products that (consumers) use,” he said.

Once Whitcraft leaves the site, the seeded ground will soon sprout vegetation, trees will grow back healthier and stronger and wildlife will flourish.

This is possible because during every step of the process, Whitcraft took steps to conserve the soil. He has made large investments in equipment that can harvest trees with minimal environmental impact. No unsightly brush, no broken trees, not a single scrap of litter is left behind.

For the landowners, Whitcraft is offering new opportunities to manage their property.

A site he logged a year earlier a few miles away was already covered in a crop of soybeans. Another plot had been cleared of pines to make room for native hardwoods. Often only a few select trees are taken, but Whitcraft always places an emphasis on caring for the environment.

The simple fact, he said, is that trees eventually die and grow back whether loggers cut them or not. But if loggers responsibly manage this process, everyone else gets 2x4s to build houses, hardwoods for furniture, pulp for paper and a slew of other products generated by Ohio’s more than $15 billion forest products industry.

“Loggers are the backbone of the forest products industry,” said David Lytle, chief of the Ohio Division of Forestry. “Without loggers we don’t get the material out of the woods; we don’t get it into the economic stream.”

The vast majority of loggers are professional and responsible operators, Lytle said.

Whitcraft was the first logger in Ohio to be officially designated as a master logger, meaning he is certified in best management practices and safety standards. Dozens of other loggers have joined him in the program, which is administered through the Ohio Forestry Association.

Another Ohio logging family also won the prestigious National Outstanding Logger award. Redoutey Logging, based in Scioto County, was the first Ohio logging business to receive the award in part for the family’s dedication to “low impact logging,” which maximizes environmental care through worker training and specialty equipment.

Anybody who doubts the sustainability of logging can look to the fact that Ohio’s forest cover has tripled since the early 1900s and now covers nearly 30 percent of the state’s land area.

But Whitcraft needs to look no farther than the woods behind his house. As he leads the way through waist-high brush along a creek bed, the tall grass opens up to a dirt path that disappears into a stand of trees. Just 30 years ago, Whitcraft harvested this plot which had hundreds of trees per acre. Walking toward two tall, black walnut trees, he surveyed the woods.

“We’ve got buckeye, we’ve got a little bit of ash, there’s maple, sycamore, there’s a poplar right there,” he said. “It’s amazing what grew back.”

Whitcraft said he could harvest these woods again. Or he’ll simply enjoy the wildlife habitat and leave the trees for future generations.

“This is a renewable resource. We can do this over and over and over,” he said.

Call before you cut
To help landowners connect with responsible loggers, the Ohio Division of Forestry, along with several other organizations, has launched the “Call Before You Cut” campaign. Landowners can call 877-424-8288 or visit callb4ucut.com for numerous resources to help them get the most from their timber sale.