Nurturing Ohio’s Forests with European Ecological Forestry
When Jim Gresh asked loggers to examine the forest he and his wife, Heidi, had purchased in Tuscarawas County, they all said he would have to call them back in 20 or 30 years. This is because it is a young forest that has grown on former farmland and pasture.
Older trees that would be profitable for timbering were few and far between. But Gresh did not want to pursue the for-profit forest management methods that are preferred in the United States.
“I like the forest. I hunted when I was young,” Gresh said. “I wasn’t interested in clearcutting.
Continuous cover forestry
Instead, he started learning about European ecological forestry, also called continuous cover forestry. In parts of Europe, they have been practicing these methods for almost 200 years.
He showed some of the results of these methods to other members of the East Central Ohio Forestry Association when he hosted their July meeting on the Tuscarawas County property.
In the European system, “the tree canopy is permanently maintained,” he explained to visitors. Crops take no more than 20% of the standing volume of the trees, while the maximum gap made in the canopy is 1.3 acres.
“In American methods, you’ll end up getting a big harvest,” he said. In the European method, “harvesting is more like thinning. We insist on frequent small harvests.
In the Tuscarawas County forest that the Greshes purchased in 2011, and in the five other forests they have purchased since then, the diameter of approximately 1,000 trees is measured once a year. These measurements must be taken at a certain height on the trunk and must be precise to the nearest millimeter.
This tells the Greshes and their forester, Ed Romano, which trees are not growing well. And, unlike traditional methods that aim to harvest the highest value trees, these poorly growing, low quality trees are the first to go. Or, they may decide to open the canopy in a certain area to let in more light and allow a certain group of trees to grow faster.
“We are constantly improving the quality of the forest,” Gresh said. “In 20 years, we will have a better forest than what we would have had if we had done nothing.
Let nature act
The European method aims to “protect and restore the diversity of tree species and let nature work”, he said. The Greshes do not use any chemicals to control invasive species. The benefits of the permanent canopy include moderating temperatures and keeping the forest wetter.
“It lets things break down and the nutrients go back into the soil,” Gresh said. “As trees decay, the microbes feed birds, salamanders and other wildlife.” It also improves soil quality, he added.
With the canopy intact, there is less leaching and erosion. Other benefits for forests managed in this way include better water quality, greater wildlife diversity, less risk of trees being blown down and better wood quality, he said. he declares.
“The goal of the European method is ecology,” Gresh said. “We are trying to create forests that are better for biodiversity; for migrating birds, vertebrates, invertebrates, even fungi and microbes under the soil.
It’s no coincidence that Gresh is in his final year of a conservation ecology degree from Malone University and part of his research for the degree is on migratory birds. A study of forests in Europe where continuous cover is practiced shows that populations of migratory birds are increasing every year. Bird populations in other parts of the world are almost universally in decline.
The European method poses challenges for loggers, who must use smaller equipment and find paths to marked trees without damaging others. Moreover, targeting mainly poor quality trees does not provide much economic incentive. But the Greshes have found several lumberjacks willing to work with them.
They do one or two small harvests a year, rotating between the six forests they own in Ohio. And they want those forests to be profitable.
“By doing small, frequent harvests, we get money now instead of waiting for a big harvest decades from now,” Gresh said. “Over the past six years, we have harvested and sold over 690,000 board feet of hardwood,” he said. “You have to look at the total economic value.”
The Tuscarawas County forest is also on the Current Agricultural Use Value program, so it benefits from that as well.
“I was impressed with the quality of the trees,” said Alan Walter, who has been with the East Central Ohio Forestry Association for 20 years and is currently its treasurer. “The trunks are very straight with few defects.”
The knots are tied where the branches come out of the tree trunk, he explained. They are undesirable in wood flooring, and especially not in paneling and furniture, which require veneer grade wood. Trees that produce veneer-grade hardwood can be worth 100 times more than those used for regular lumber, he said.
Thinning the forest with small, frequent harvests should produce some of these highest quality trees given enough time, Walter said. “If there are fewer trees per acre, there are more resources per tree,” he said. “Thinning of the canopy allows trees to grow. In Ohio, the limiting factor in tree growth is sunlight.
A forest that Walter has owned for 30 years has only been harvested once during that time. But with mostly saplings in the 120-acre forest he was visiting, “the options are pretty limited.”
“He uses techniques that are unusual in the United States, but he goes there with open eyes, collecting data and pushing the boundaries of the European way,” he said of the tour guide. “It looks like it will probably work for the kind of young forest he has here.”
Walter thinks the European method could be used successfully in Ohio, especially since large farms are divided into 20 or 30 acre parcels, which he called an “unfortunate trend.”
“In these cases, there can only be small harvests,” he said. “You can’t fill a log truck with a smaller area, so it may have to go that route.”
A new world
The Greshes originally purchased the Tuscarawas County property as a place to gather and visit with their adult children, most of whom live and work far away. But it was there that Heidi found a new passion – woodturning – and where she and her daughter Katia began to create jewelry from natural materials.
Learning forestry from Romano and the European method opened up a new world for Gresh. He had retired after 33 years with Timken, including six years as president of the company’s China operations. He then spent three years as Executive Director of the Timken Foundation.
But instead of retiring quietly, he began serving on the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Board and working on another college degree. He has joined forestry associations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as conservation forestry groups in the US, UK and other parts of Europe.
He managed to visit some of the groups and visit the forests they managed. The Greshes are considering buying more forests, possibly including some with older trees. And they hope that their use of European methods of ecological forestry will make these forests productive and profitable well into the next century.
As Gresh, 61, summed it up: “I haven’t been too worried about ‘game over’ for at least 100 years.”
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