SchmukiFamily

Working the woodlands: Three generations take care of the trees

Deep in his family’s woods in Newcomerstown, Keith Schmuki ventures several feet down into a hollow, returning with a small branch in his hand. “Witch hazel,” he says of the bush that has been used over the centuries to reduce swelling and for other medicinal purposes. His father, Mike, nods in agreement with his son, whose first name means “of wood.”

Knowing all about the woods has been part of the Schmuki family for decades. The Schmukis first became interested in learning how to take care of their wooded areas in 1993 when they developed a management plan for their Navarre dairy farm, including their 8-acre wooded lot.

“I was fascinated by what went into properly taking care of the woods and when this piece of land (in Newcomerstown) came up for auction, I knew we had to have it,” said Mike, a Stark County Farm Bureau member.

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For undesirable trees, the family removes a strip of bark from the circumference of the tree (calling girdling), which results in a slow death and provides dens for wildlife.

The Schmuki family’s woodlands are certified by the American Tree Farm System, which promotes the growth of renewable resources on private land while protecting the environment. The organization recognizes landowners who practice good stewardship in four key areas: wood production, wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation. The Ohio branch of the national organization includes 1,700 woodland owners who have developed a comprehensive land management plan with the help of a professional forester.

“The Ohio Tree Farm Program is a good way to learn more about how to take care of your woods. There’s always somebody around who knows answers to your questions, and you don’t have to rely on trial and error,” Mike said.

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Kenny Schmuki drives his parents along a stretch of their woodlands in Newcomerstown. Over the years, the family has planted more than 10,000 tree seedlings.

On this unseasonably warm December day, the Schmukis are riding through their 236-acre woods on ATVs, stopping occasionally to point out the many changes they have made to their property. Areas that were strip-mined have been planted with black locust, which grows well in poor soils. Grapevines, which travel up trees and choke their canopies of sunlight, have been cut. Invasive species such as the fast-growing ailanthus (also known as tree-of-heaven) have been removed. Undesirable trees aren’t felled but girdled, meaning a strip of bark is removed from around the entire circumference of a tree, resulting in a slow death. These dead, upright trees can provide dens for wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, woodpeckers and Indiana bats, an endangered species.

Over the years, the Schmukis have planted more than 10,000 tree seedlings, many of them commercially desirable hardwoods such as white oak, red oak, black walnut, cherry and sugar maple.

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Forester Randy Clum shows how bats can make dens behind the bark of trees. The American Tree Farm System certifies landowners who practice good stewardship in wood production, wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation.

“Ohio has some of the finest hardwoods in the United States because of its soil. Good soil is essential for trees,” said Randy Clum, a certified forester who has worked with the Schmukis for more than two decades. Years ago he advised the family that some of its trees were worth more than the quote from a logging company. The Schmukis wound up getting twice as much money on that timber sale while still maintaining a healthy, sustainable woods for future generations.

Clum, a Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau member, said a properly managed woodland improves forest health, wildlife habitat and aesthetics while providing a source of income. A tree lover, Clum said he is often questioned about why some of the big trees are cut down and not left in place.

“You have to look at forestry management from a biological and financial maturity. Trees reach a biological maturity and you want to make sure they’re harvested before they rot and decay because if that happens, you’ve lost out on your investment,” he said. “Look at them as a crop – you don’t want to cut them until they’re ready and you don’t want to wait too long.”

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An acorn from one of the many oak trees on the Schmukis’ property. White and red oak, black walnut, cherry and sugar maple are among the hardwoods that the family focuses on growing and maintaining.

For the Schmuki family, they’ve put a lot of sweat equity into management of their woodlands – so much that Keith and his brother, Kenny, joke that they tell their dad to look away when a woodlands property comes up for sale.

“If he buys something, it means we’ll be working on it for years,” laughed Kenny.

For the Schmukis, the best woods are a managed woods, and they love constantly improving their land and enjoying it whether it’s for riding ATVs, hunting or exploring.

“They’re true conservationists,” Clum said of the Schmukis. “They’re really doing it right, and it’ll be enjoyed for many generations.”

Working to keep woodland tax rates reasonable

Ohio property owners are eligible for tax relief for their woodlands through the state’s Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program. The woodlands portion of CAUV helps promote green space and commercial production of timber. Ohio Farm Bureau has proposed changes to the CAUV formula to ensure accurate data is used when determining property tax values. Ohio Farm Bureau’s recent efforts resulted in an average savings of $10 per acre for counties reappraised in 2015. Ohio Farm Bureau is continuing to work with legislators and state officials on its proposals to make the CAUV formula more accurate. Farm Bureau recommendations are in House Bill 398 and Senate Bill 246.

Learn more about how to manage your property by downloading the Ohio Landowner Toolkit, which is part of an Ohio Farm Bureau membership. The toolkit includes information about property rights, oil and gas leasing, trespassing and landowner liability, dog laws and line fences and is a benefit of Ohio Farm Bureau membership. For more information, visit GrowWithFB.org and look for Landowner Education.

By the numbers

  • Ohio has approximately 8.05 million acres under forest cover, which is 30.7 percent of Ohio’s land area.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Ohio’s forestland, 5.8 million acres, is held by 336,000 nonindustrial private landowners.
  • Ohio’s forest products industry contributed an estimated $22.05 billion to Ohio’s economy in 2010.
  • One walnut tree in Williams County sold for $35,000 in 1975.

Source: Ohio State University Extension/Ohio
Department of Natural Resources

How to better manage your woodland

  • Become actively involved in the stewardship of your property; don’t just let it sit.
  • Join your local forestry association to stay up-to-date on forest-related topics.
  • Contact one of the state’s 19 service foresters or a certified forest consultant through the Ohio Society of American Foresters (osafdirectory.com) to help you develop a management plan for your property.
  • Obtain soil and management information for trees suited to your soil types at your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
  • Enlist the assistance of a professional forester when planning a timber sale.
  • Consider hiring an Ohio Master Logging Company, certified through the Ohio Forestry Association, to conduct your harvesting operation. (Visit ohioforest.org)

Source: Ohio State University Extension

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Amy Graves 

Amy Graves is a communications specialist for Ohio Farm Bureau.