Nathan Johnson, Director of Public Lands, September 21, 2017
Mohican-Memorial State Forest enjoys the gold standard of administrative protection in the state forest system. The public worked with the state for several years to win that special status — official state protection as a future old growth forest. After 20 years, the state is proposing to remove this special status from nearly half of the forest.
The Ohio Division of Forestry manages all 21 of Ohio’s state forests. The agency does a lot of great work for the public and for forests in the state. The Division of Forestry is charged with managing the 200,000-acre state forest system for several purposes – aesthetics, recreation, wildlife, and timber value. The OEC doesn’t challenge the fact that logging sales are a part of Forestry’s mission. In fact, we recognize that Forestry is under a lot of budgetary pressure – especially given recent and substantial cuts the Ohio legislature made to Forestry’s budget this fiscal year.
That said, there are times that we disagree with DOF’s decisions, especially when it comes to conservation of Ohio’s most precious forestlands. Some places in the state forest system are just too special to log. These places should be preserved for the recovery of old growth and for the enjoyment of future generations. Mohican is one of these places.
Mohican’s highest economic value is its tourism draw in the region and the state. That tourism value could be lessened if Mohican is commercially timbered instead of preserved for mature forest recovery.. Fortunately, Mohican enjoys a very high level of protection at the state agency level. That protection has been in place for 20 years – and it came about because of years of citizen input.
Flashback to the 1990s. Several members of the public, natural resources professionals, and representatives from ODNR met every month for 3 years to hammer out a management plan for Mohican. This was the “Ad Hoc Committee.” In late 1998 the Committee finalized, and in 1999 the state adopted Mohican’s current management directive. The agreement was to protect about 4,000 acres of Mohican – to keep commercial logging out and let the forest recover old growth (the huge old trees that tourists and lots of wildlife species love). As a compromise, about 750 acres were retained as “Demonstration Zones” that DOF could commercially log.
In 2010, the state forest system was certified “sustainable” through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). You’ve probably seen the FSC sustainability logo on wood and paper products. As part of that certification, the 4,000 protected acres of Mohican were enrolled in the FSC “High Conservation Value Forest” (HCVF) program as future old growth forest. This HCVF status memorialized the protections agreed to in 1998/1999. HCVF is the highest level of protection DOF can offer, absent a wilderness designation by the state legislature.
There are 16,000 HCVF protected acres in the state forest system. There’s Ohio’s solitary state wilderness designation — the 8,000-acre Shawnee Wilderness Area in the Shawnee State Forest. There’s Mohican’s nearly 4,000 acres of protected HCVF. And then there are several small parcels scattered here and there throughout the system that make up the remaining 4,000 HCVF acres. In other words, Mohican comprises about 2% of the total state forest system, but it represents about 25% of the system’s protected acreage. Most of the remaining 184,000 acres of the system are in commercial logging rotation. Mohican’s special HCVF status is therefore at the core of what makes it an important and unique destination in Ohio.
Forestry is proposing to remove HCVF status from nearly half of the forest — from 1,787 acres — and allow commercial logging there. This is a major departure from Mohican’s current management plan, and commercial logging could change what the forest ends up being and looking like.
20 years ago, the state and the public agreed to preserve most of Mohican for the recovery of old growth. It’s a shame that old growth forests are almost completely gone in the Eastern United States today. These are the ancient forests that once dominated Ohio. The forests with giant trees that are several hundred years old. They inspire awe in people and draw in tourists from across the state and country.
According to the Division of Forestry, there is no known old growth (defined as 140-160 years and older) in the entire state forest system. Less than 0.4% of forest stands throughout the entire state of Ohio are over 140 years old. This underscores the vitally important role of Mohican State Forest as a fortress of future old growth recovery.
Several years of public involvement and input went into preserving Mohican for old growth recovery. A lot of that additional protection could now be rolled back virtually overnight.