When John Kehn drives down the road, he tends to take a look at the trees along the way — not in the same manner a layman would, but from the perspective of a forester.
As miles and miles of unmanaged woodlands pass by his window, Kehn sees an opportunity for agriculture.
“Forestry is just gardening on a big scale,” he said.
After years of working on forging partnerships with metroparks, municipalities, cities and arboretums, Kehn, who is the District 3 manager in the ODNR’s Division of Forestry, and Brad Perkins, executive director of the Ohio Forestry Association, recently gave a tour of newly cut woodlands at one of the parks.
“For years (conventional wisdom) was ‘Let it go,’” said Perkins, noting just letting nature take care of itself isn’t always for the best when it comes to forest management.
Growth of non-native plants, as well as accounting for the types of trees that are growing in one area, makes “letting it go” a risky proposition. All partners at the park eventually agreed to conduct managed harvests, with the help of foresters, to research what a good, well-managed cut would do for the health of the woods.
Kehn said a tree’s size, growth rate and crown health are all affected by the nearby competing trees and the amount of sunlight they receive, just like any other plant.
“Some species need more and some less,” Kehn said. “Knowing what you need, which trees to cut and when to cut are essential to a healthy, productive woodland.”
Not only will managed harvests give remaining timber a better chance to flourish and be healthy, it also helps diversify wildlife habitat, improve aesthetics and improve the overall environment by retaining healthy, vigorous trees that filter and store water and clean the air, Kehn said.
The Division of Forestry is housed in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and timber harvesting makes a substantial contribution to the overall agricultural economy in Ohio, according to Kehn. Tariffs have impacted the lumber industry lately, but Ohio trees remain in high demand. When, what and how to harvest are questions many landowners don’t know how to answer. Many also don’t know how to manage or cultivate the potential their woods have, Kehn said, and some people are taking advantage of that naivete.
What can go wrong
One landowner in Portage County, Joe Diliberto, had tears in his eyes when he talked about what happened to his once picturesque property. A company came in and offered him a contract to harvest his woodlands. He wasn’t able to contact a forester before he signed it. He immediately regretted doing so, but the deal was done. The company brought in a portable mill, which is something Kehn said he’s never seen before coming to northeast Ohio from the central part of the state, and they started cutting.
What they left behind was a mess Diliberto said two years later “he is still trying to clean up,” and heartbreak that his once beautiful property would never be the same again.
“This is a common story in this part of the state,” Kehn said.
Call Before You Cut program
That’s one of the reasons ODNR is pushing the Call Before You Cut program. State service foresters, and many private foresters, will offer a consultation for free to a landowner who is thinking about harvesting their timber and possibly has been approached by a company to do so. Many companies are legitimate, but some are not. The good operators are being undermined and their reputation devalued by those who aren’t.
“People are being taken advantage of,” Kehn said. Call Before You Cut hopes to curb the number of people who sign a timber contract before they have all the facts about both their own woodlands and the timber economy in general.
Above, a timber harvest in northeast Ohio did not go well for the landowner. Left behind by a contractor was a large pile of sawdust, wood waste and a decimated forest. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources forestry division is encouraging landowners to call it before signing any contracts for a timber harvest and sale. Visit callb4ucut.com/ohio or call 877-424-8288 for more information.
John Kehn, District 3 manager in ODNR’s Division of Forestry, explains how a timber harvest can not only be profitable for a landowner, but can be good for tree growth and wildlife.