Ohio Districts Collaborate to Create Best Management Practices

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The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Division of Forestry and Ohio’s soil and water conservation districts (SWCD) have formed a partnership to reduce forestry pollution statewide and create best management practices for loggers.

Mindy Bankey, CEO of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (OFSWCD), believes good things are happening as a result of the collaboration.

“Working with the Division of Forestry and developing relationships with the logging chapters and loggers has made many positive benefits to the efforts out there, especially in the pollution abatement effort,” Bankey said.

Forests make up about 30 percent of Ohio’s 8 million acres and more than 6.8 million are privately owned. Logging is a key component of the economy, but has the ability to create pollution and impact the forest environment.

Ohio’s Forestry Pollution Abatement Program has been in place since 1992. The goal has been to reduce pollution and establish connections with loggers to manage their practices in an environmentally sound way. Originally, the Forestry Pollution Abatement Program was a component of Ohio’s Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program. However, in 2016, the Forestry Pollution efforts became a stand-alone program, under the direction of the Ohio DNR Division of Forestry.

The shift didn’t change the direction of the program but allowed for more connections and training opportunities. This led to the partnership between Ohio DNR Division of Forestry and OFSWCD.

“Ohio is extremely diverse, and the resource issues are different county to county,” Bankey said. “It is critical for best management practices (BMPs) and conservation stewardship to continue to occur. We continue efforts for training, communication and much more to ensure we are working together to get the best conservation on the ground and educating landowners, loggers and others on the importance of BMPs.”

According to Robert Mulligan, forest hydrology manager with the Ohio Division of Forestry, BMPs—including the voluntary timber harvest planning process—have been viewed as close-out practices put in place after logging activities are completed.

“Over the years, I’ve heard many loggers say, ‘we’ll put the BMPs in when we’re finished,’” Mulligan said. “We’re trying hard to change that mindset. Most of the BMPs we recommend are actually intended to be preventive, not remedial.”

Mulligan believes selecting a proper log landing location and designing a good skid trail layout before the harvest is just as important as installing water bars and mulch at the end of the harvest. Inadequate planning and poor site layout contribute to soil erosion, drainage problems and other issues.

“With good pre-harvest planning, water quality is maintained, logging efficiency is improved, and landowners are happy with the trail systems through their property,” Mulligan said. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

Those BMPs and timber harvest plans are done at the local level, where the SWCDs get to know the loggers and in turn develop relationships that enhance the pollution abatement efforts.

“We work with the Division of Forestry on the BMPs and provide training sessions and work directly with the logging chapters, consultants, landowners and more to share BMPs and educate about the importance of addressing erosion and runoff in an effort to protect the resources, water and more,” Bankey said.

Ohio’s conservation districts also are involved in the timber harvest management plans and review the plans to ensure the resources are being protected as planned. In addition, districts aid with the education and outreach on other issues, such as the “Call Before You Cut” program, and they work collaboratively in tackling invasive issues with insects and plant tree/species.

Jefferson County is more than 60 percent forested, which is why training of conservation district staff has increased. According to Irene Moore, district administrator for the Jefferson SWCD,as a result of more staff being trained, they are able to train more loggers in BMPs.

“Most wooded areas are on moderately steep to very steep soils, and much of the slopes are along streams and drainage ways,” Moore said. “Each site and location is treated differently because of soil type, slope and weather conditions. BMPs are very necessary to control the erosion on our hillsides during harvests.”

Moore said as recently as the 1990s, SWCDs didn’t have a professional relationship with local logging companies and many of the site visits were not productive. Since then, Moore’s office assists loggers in becoming certified as Ohio Master Loggers, which increases the BMP efforts and loggers’ knowledge and reduces pollution issues.

“That local presence is very, very important to us,” Mulligan said. “They’re core partners, with unified fronts on how to address pollution issues and foster good working relationships with the forest industry, and that’s helped over the years.”

The Division of Forestry conducted a review of BMP effectiveness about a year ago, and data is currently being evaluated by the Ohio State University with results expected to be released this year. The Division of Forestry hopes to conduct the study every several years to track trends and measure effectiveness of the program.

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