As a conservation leader, hunter, trapper and fisherman for 60 years, I have observed many environmental changes, and their impact on wildlife. One lasting memory was when I was very young and my dad timbered a 10-acre old growth forest. I loved these woods, hunting squirrel and raccoon with my Grandpa Miller. The woods were devastated. These big oaks when felled, flattened everything. Both my dad and grandpa assured me that it would regenerate. It took years. My teen years were spent cutting firewood and cleaning trails. Birds and small game flourished in this thicket. We spent many hours chasing rabbits circling around in the thick underbrush by the big oak stump in the center with beagles hot in pursuit.
Today, these woods are filled with houses. Around the perimeter, oak, maple and hickory trees fill the yards. Around and behind the houses, squirrels, birds and rabbits torment the gardens of the homeowners. The woods are back. If a road were needed, it would be called Rabbit Drive or Squirrel Alley. As park manager of three county parks I lobbied for clear cutting of dying ash and to create every sustainable forest in those parks creating exceptions (small game and bird habitat). My experience at Mohican, hunting wild turkey, I have observed that this planted pine wildlife desert was brought to light by my grandson asking where are the birds and animal tracks? Hiking through these dark vast areas? Getting to the edge was a reward and finding ground cover to set and listen for turkeys and hearing a difference in the bird calls.
In a day of questions about environmental conditions and global warming, number of trees are a treasure. Creating light to the forest floor will spark new growth and habitat. When the pioneers cleared homesteads and Native Americans cut and burned large areas to create openings they knew the value of this new growth, helping provide food for birds and animals they needed to survive.
I have in my over half a century observing wildlife seen habitat that sustained birds and animals. I have seen the benefit of logging practices that create wildlife conservation meccas.
The high-density, low-growing structure provided nesting, escape and winter cover, while producing a smorgasbord of berries, insects and browse for fledgling young birds, mammals and mature songbirds, and more as they bulked up for winter or migration.
If you were a deer hunter, you knew to sneak carefully and quietly through the dense tree tops left after logging often with heavy briers as these were the areas where the big bucks hid. Turkey hunters knew that the boss gobblers could be found on the edges of these dense thickets, where the hens liked to nest and locate berries and insects for their young.
Sadly, areas like I describe have been lost, due to the maturing of our forest habitat on public and private land. The Mohican State Forest contains 4,635 acres of our public land, not including the state park. Unfortunately, only 1 percent of this state forest contains the type of habitat I have described, better known as "young forest" or "early successional habitat." This component of a healthy forest contains seedlings, saplings, shrubs and berry-producing plants that need full sunlight. This forest is out of balance and in need of active forest management. We need to regenerate small portions of the forest to restore over 50 species of wildlife that no longer exist because sunlight never hits the forest floor to promote new growth, leaving a barren forest floor without nesting cover or berries for many species. Forty percent of the Mohican Forest is a sterile environment covered in old pine plantations where you would have difficulty even hearing a songbird sing. A single tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year and can release enough oxygen to support two human beings.
We have a chance to restore wildlife diversity to this local treasure if we are vocal about our support for the "ODNR, Division of Forestry’s, Draft 5 Year Management Plan." It would allow for active management over a long period of time on 36 percent of the forest, at a rate of 20 to 40 acres per year over several decades, to restore different age classes of forest habitat, including young forest. This would be accomplished by converting several of the 1,800 acres of old pine plantations to new hardwood forests that provide acorns, nuts, tender browse for wildlife and abundant nesting and wintering areas. The ODNR also plans to set up educational and demonstration areas to create public understanding through observation of the numerous species of wildlife that quickly move into the young forest habitat.
The plan is fair and balanced to provide quality outdoor experiences for all of our citizens. The plan permanently protects or restricts active forest management in 64 percent of the Mohican State Forest for old growth forest, sensitive areas for unique resource protection, high use recreation areas and administrative areas.
Let’s restore the wildlife diversity, and quality hunting or bird watching experiences in the Mohican State Forest by strongly endorsing the state’s plan to include active and responsible forest management. This is OUR state forest, let the professionals in the Division of Forestry manage it and your voice be heard.
Andy McClure is an outdoors enthusiast and member of the Ashland County Wildlife Conservation League.