By Michael Scott
Cleveland, OH (January 17, 2008)- Here in Ohio, you really can see the forest for the trees- more than any time in a half century. Woodland coverage in the Buckeye State is recovering dramatically after being felled over generations of industrial and economic growth. The state’s green mantle has more than doubled in acreage- from about 15 percent of the state’s area to about 31 percent since the 1940s, according to the state Division of Forestry.
And we might even get some economic bounce from that environmental rebound: There are increasing efforts to get Ohio’s forests and logging operations — both public and private — certified as “sustainable.” That could make the state’s timber and paper products more desirable to increasingly green-minded consumers.
“Ohio is greening up at the right time,” said Denise Franz King, director of government relations of Nature Conservancy Ohio, part of a national non-profit conservation group. “The forest industry already employs a lot of people in this state and there is a growing demand for green-certified products. “Anything we can do here to encourage that will be a benefit to our forests and to the economy.”
Trees have reclaimed most of southwest Ohio and generally the eastern third of the state, mainly over the last 50 years. “It’s interesting, because the primary reason was that people moved out of those areas- southeast Ohio in particular- after the Depression to seek jobs and relocate into urban areas,” said Randy Edwards, a spokesman for Nature Conservancy in Ohio.
“A lot of them left behind marginal farmland,” Edwards said. Over the years, the land was purchased by the state or by Wayne National Forest, by private buyers or by timber companies. “So the trees just did what nature does, they reclaimed the fields and that’s a good thing,” Edwards said.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland directed the forestry division this month to pursue certification of state-owned forests through two accrediting organizations, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council. The state owns about 13 percent of Ohio’s 8.5 million acres of woodlands.
Certification is a sort of “sticker” on a wood or paper product, which tells customers it was produced by what are considered environmentally friendly practices. Before granting the certification, Auditors look for evidence that harvested forests have been replanted. The state’s largest paper employer, Gladfelter Paper in Chillicothe, gained certification several years ago, company spokesman Eric Roush said. The certification movement has grown steadily since it began in the mid-1990s. Nearby states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota have certified their state forests.
“Ohio’s forests are one of our greatest assets — for recreation, for people and for wildlife,” Strickland said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Ensuring that they are managed properly is the right thing to do.” Forestry Division Chief David Lytle said he feels confident that the state will earn the accreditation over the next year or so. “It would give concrete evidence that we are committed to balancing the economy and the environment,” he said.
Cleveland Plain Dealer