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Ohio’s first tree farm is on abandoned farmland
Ohio Correspondent

WOOSTER, Ohio — The first Ohio tree farm, established at the Izaak Walton Memorial Forest, was recently awarded a 60-year certificate. The land, once abandoned farmland, belongs to the Wayne County Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) chapter.

“We’re one of the few tree farms in the country that have been in the program for that long,” said IWLA member Jack Vimmerstedt, retired from the School of Natural Resources at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

“The abandoned farmland was severely eroded when IWLA purchased it,” he said. “One of the first orders of business was to get some tree cover.

“To do that they ploughed furrows on the contour and then planted mostly red and white pine trees and some hardwoods, mostly tulip tree,” Vimmerstedt said. “They planted about 40-50 acres.”

In hindsight Vimmerstedt said he would not have planted red pine. White pine is native to Ohio, red is not. The white pine has done well; the red pine can’t compete and is dying out.

“So far we haven’t been able to sell it, either,” Vimmerstedt said. “We have harvested white pines and tulip trees - they cut the white pine after about 40 years; they harvested the tulip trees about four or five years ago.”

The interesting thing is that wild black cherry invaded the plantings, it came in from bird droppings and seeds, and the black cherry is by far the most valuable of the trees, Vimmerstedt said.

IWLA practices good forest management and the key to that is a good plan, Vimmerstedt said. Two of the members Dan Houston and Jim McClenahen are professional consulting foresters. Through their company, Sylvan Care, they have written a management plan for the tree farm.

“They measured the volume of trees of different species and divided the forest into management compartments and made recommendations for the compartments so that’s our bible for managing the forest,” Vimmerstedt said.

One option in forest management is to do nothing but the IWLA is not going to do that, Vimmerstedt said. The current effort is to either harvest the red pine or eliminate it so they can plant something more productive and valuable and provide more diversity.

“We also have a thriving firewood operation,” Vimmerstedt said. “We have an active firewood crew; we have a wood splitter, chain saws, and a trailer. When we harvested the tulip and cherry trees there were a lot of cherry tops that made excellent firewood so we split that, dried it and sold it.”

The group has had a Christmas tree plantation for many years. Customers tag a tree before Christmas and come and get it after deer season.

“We do not sell live trees,” Vimmerstedt said. “My philosophy is we’re not selling our soil, we’re selling our trees.”

Also, researchers at OSU use the forest for education. Charles Goeble teaches a course and uses the forest as a site for fieldwork. Most of all, IWLA members appreciate the woods. Volunteers mark paths and keep them open so others can enjoy walking through the tree farm.

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.