LOGAN - The Hocking Soil & Water Conservation District was organized in 1944 to assist local farmers improve conservation methods. Since that time, the SWCD has expanded to include assistance to all residents within the county with conservation and development of their land, water and natural resources.

LOGAN — The Hocking Soil & Water Conservation District was organized in 1944 to assist local farmers improve conservation methods. Since that time, the SWCD has expanded to include assistance to all residents within the county with conservation and development of their land, water and natural resources.

For more than 19 years, SWCD has invited elected officials on a tour of the most recent projects the agency has completed. Hocking County Commissioners Clark Sheets Jr. and Sandy Ogle and Hocking County Auditor Ken Wilson joined the group Friday morning as they set out to visit four areas of the county that received SWCD assistance with various projects on their properties.

Before the tour began, SWCD Education Specialist Rebecca Miller presented a slideshow on the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid that has invaded Hocking County and other parts of the state. However, Hocking County has the largest population of hemlock trees in Ohio and staff at SWCD have already started treating trees in the Cantwell Cliffs area.

Trees infested with HWA will have a white cottony sac found at the base of the needles. The adelgid uses these sacs to protect itself and its eggs. These sacs resemble the tips of a cotton swab and can be seen from early winter until early summer.

Once the HWA infestation gets out of hand, it can destroy the trees. This exotic insect is native to Japan and has infested trees in Ohio since 2002.

The small insect is found exclusively on hemlock trees and sucks the sap from young twigs, which stops or prevents tree growth and causes needles to discolor and drop prematurely.

Hemlocks dominate the vegetation around the beautiful gorges of the Hocking Hills, and with an estimated annual visitation of over three million tourists each year to the Hocking Hills State Park, a loss of hemlocks would seriously impact the tourism industry in the region. If a huge infestation occurred in Hocking County, it could result in the loss of not only approximately $115 million in business activity, but also the loss of approximately 900 jobs.

“We are educating not only the landowners, but also the cabin owners as this will affect them as well,” Miller said. “If the infestation would get out of hand and attack large areas of our county, the tourism industry would suffer greatly.”

A single woolly mass was recently found by the Ohio Department of Agriculture nursery inspectors on a hemlock tree within Cantwell Cliffs, and since that discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has partnered with OSU Extension, Ohio Department of Agriculture and SWCD to address the potentially devastating threat from HWA on the Hocking Hills.

Efforts to address HWA in the Hocking Hills include region-wide surveys to determine the extent of infestation; mapping of the infested trees; educational and training opportunities; chemical treatment of more than 500 trees; continued monitoring of treated trees; and annual surveys of hemlock stands to detect new HWA infestations.

After a brief stop at Cantwell Cliffs to view the area of hemlocks affected, the group moved onto the Natural Rock Bridge Farm of David Crawford and family on Crawford-Starner Road. Crawford has been involved with SWCD since 2004 when he received help with construction of a heavy use pad, roadways and feedlot.

In 2012, he received help again with two stream crossings, fencing and a water pipeline. Crawford also built a walk-in farm pond for his 16 head of cattle.

Crawford was particularly proud of the new culvert project that was completed with a 32-foot by 32-foot heavy use pad.

“It’s great,” he said. “I can haul double bales of hay over the culvert without the fear of it collapsing.”

He also constructed another heavy use pad, 64-foot by 64-foot, to help stockpile manure. Crawford indicated he had a two-year completion date on both conservation plans as required by SWCD.

Crawford is the fourth generation farmer on the property consisting of 74 acres around the homestead, and has another 19 acres nearby.

While there was more to see on this stop than what was presented, the tour was cut short due to a flat tire on the trailer the group was riding on during Crawford’s presentation. Crawford’s plans were to trailer the group over the property to show various areas that were included in the two conservation plans with SWCD.

The property of Bill and Nancy Messbarger on Goss Road was the next stop on the tour. The Messbargers have been experiencing issues with wildlife damage to their property, in particular with deer.

“It’s nothing to see 25 to 30 deer in the field,” Bill said. “And another 30 or so behind the house and another 30 or so in front of the house. They’re everywhere and they destroy everything in their paths.”

In order to help combat the problem, the Messbargers applied for a nuisance permit from SWCD to help control the deer population and cut down on the damage to their property.

“We have an extreme deer problem,” Bill explained. “We needed to find a way to protect our property so we got a deer permit or nuisance permit from soil and water.”

For many people, viewing wildlife is exciting, but for the Messbargers, it’s a complete disaster. “They eat my garden, my bushes, my trees,” said Nancy. “I don’t think there’s anything they won’t eat. We have tried everything, but there’s no end to it.”

While the nuisance permit has helped, it has not completely rid the property of the problem. The Messbargers have allowed several friends to hunt on the property and most have killed several deer, but the property is still plagued with an over-population.

Sheets reiterated the Messbargers’ issues and said the county is overrun with deer and they are not only destroying crops, but also causing a lot of vehicle accidents. He indicated that most vehicles damaged by deer cost in the range of $3,000 to repair.

The last stop of the day was at the property of Eric Burris on state Route 664 North. During this stop, Sheets showed those on the tour the type of damage done to crops caused by the over population of deer in the county. Many ears of corn were completely cleaned from the cob and, in some instances, the cob was completely eaten as well.

Asa Snouffer guided the group through a small thicket of trees on the property to talk about the autumn olive invasive problem. The autumn olive bush is non-native to Ohio. It’s a deciduous shrub or small tree that can reach the height of 20 feet.

It has small, light yellow fragrant flowers with small round juicy fruits that are reddish to pink in color. Autumn olive has nitrogen-fixing root nodules, which allow them to adapt to many poor soil types. They are found in areas such as pastures and fields, grasslands and sparse woodlands.

The bush grows rapidly and re-sprouts heavily after cutting or burning. In order to control this invasive species, the stems may be cut and treated with systemic herbicide. Re-sprouting will occur, and follow up treatments are necessary. A combination of hand-pulling the entire plant, including the roots, and herbicide treatments are normally necessary.

Autumn olive is listed third on the list of Ohio’s top 10 invasive non-native plants.

Those attending the tour included Rob Hamilton, program specialist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; Hocking County commissioners Clark Sheets Jr. and Sandra Ogle; Ken Wilson, Hocking County auditor; Emily Schmidbauer, Southeast Field Representative for Congressman Steve Stivers (R-15th District); Terry Cosby, state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service; JoAnn Murtha, Hocking SWCD supervisor/treasurer; Clayton Stahr, Hocking SWCD supervisor/secretary; Joe Koehler, soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Amelia Hettinger, forestry/wildlife/technician for Hocking SWCD; Rebecca Miller, education specialist for Hocking SWCD; Dave Libben, district conservationist for Natural Resources Conservation Service; Richard Harwood, president of the Hocking SWCD board; and Debbie Later, district program administrator of Hocking SWCD.

The Hocking Soil & Water Conservation District 69th annual meeting and banquet is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Logan Church of the Nazarene, 650 Walhonding Ave. The supervisor election will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. and the banquet will begin at 7 p.m.