LOUDONVILLE — By position, Chad Sanders is in the midst of another controversy involving the Mohican-Memorial State Forest.
Sanders, a native of Greenwich, has served since 2011 as manager of the Mohican-Memorial State Forest, 4,600 acres of state-owned and state-managed hardwood and pine forest in Hanover Township southwest of Loudonville.
He comes to Mohican after working for a decade in the timber industry, for Georgia-Pacific in Coos Bay, Oregon, and later in Fordyce in southern Arkansas for the Plum Creek Timber Co.
At Plum Creek, he was responsible for the management of 280,000 acres, mostly harvested for its loblolly pine, as the senior resource forester.
"That's more acreage than the entirety of Ohio's state forests," he said. "And Ohio's, and Mohican's forests represent extremely diverse ecosystems, with as many as 20 to 30 hardwood species and a lot of nuances.
"I quickly learned that while in the timber industry, you work for the bottom line, while working with the state forests you are working for the public trust, ecosystem management, the recreational aspects of the forest," Sanders continued. "Dealing with public lands involves dealing with the public, and dealing with a number of different stakeholders. This experience has been a learning process for me as I try to build trusts with these stakeholders."
Sanders joined the Division of Forestry in 2005, and came to Mohican as manager in 2011. He and his wife Christina live in her hometown of Fredericktown and have four children, girls ages 22 and 14, and boys 16 and 7.
After graduating from South Central High School in 1990, he decided he wanted to look into a career involving the outdoors, and wanted to see the west.
"So I enrolled at the University of Idaho, in Moscow, Idaho, where I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife Management, and as Masters of Science in Forestry," he said.
His educated and experiential evaluation of Mohican has put him in the midst of a controversy about of the future of the very popular and much visited Mohican Forest area.
As part of his job, Sanders wrote the proposal to restore native hardwoods at Mohican.
"We did an inventory of the forest, and found that nearly 1,800 acres of its 4,600 acres are planted in pine plantations, growth habits that are not natural in origin, as are the hardwood forests that constitute the remainder of the forest," he explained.
The pine plantations were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depression and World War II eras with the intent to conserve soil in badly eroded farmlands.
"The intent of these plantations was to conserve soil long enough that a future native hardwood forest would eventually be established through management and eventual removal of the pines," Sanders said. "Managed plantations enjoy a vigorous growth of understory vegetation of hardwood trees and shrubs. Unmanaged pine plantations at Mohican are dense with little or no sunlight hitting the forest floor, resulting in an understory devoid of plants, animals and other biota. The over-stocked conditions also cause stress to the United-thinned trees resulting mortality from disease, insects or moisture and nutrient deficiencies."
Sanders has proposed thinning abut 20 to 40 acres of pine plantations per year to allow hardwoods to gradually replace the pine.
"If you do the math, you will determine that it will take, at the 20 to 40 acres per year rate, between 45 and 90 years to thin all of the one plantations in the forest," he said. "We are not proposing that we cut down all the pines at once. And our plans are to start this work in the demonstration areas of the forest, so the public can come in and see what we are doing and how nature responds to it."
"We also want to see how the process goes before moving too far ahead on it," he added. "We want to see, and show, how it is going before we move into other areas."
Part of the process will involve dealing with several invasive plant species that have made themselves a nuisance in this area.
"Invasives are part of nature's way to effect change in the forest," he said. "We will deal with them in several ways, but the invasives are part of the process in restoring the hardwood forests native to the area."
The Forest Initiative will be discussed, and possibly be acted upon at a meeting of the Ohio Forest Advisory Council this coming Thursday, Dec. 7, at 12:30 p.m. in the Mohican forest headquarters, 3060 County Road 939, Perrysville.
Sanders cautioned people wishing to attend this meeting "that I don't see this meeting as a forum, like the earlier open house on the initiative, and I am not sure everyone who attends will fit in the building. We may have to move it to our larger garage."
Nine people serve on the Forest Advisory Council, representating various stakeholders in the forestry business.
The meeting of the council was called for at 10 a.m. Thursday, but Sanders said the event will begin with breakfast for members at the Mohican Lodge, with the official meeting starting at 12:30 p.m.
Sanders assured people who have submitted written or verbal comments on the Forestry Initiative have been heard.
"There has been no effort to not take anyone's input," he stressed.