Taking root

Reforestation Efforts Help Create Healthy Habitats

By Val Beerbower

Within the past 100 years, Ohio’s vast forests have been reduced to small woodlots and narrow woodlands along streams. These fragmented forests are especially vulnerable to invasive bugs like emerald ash borer and invasive shrubs like Amur honeysuckle. The good news is that Five Rivers MetroParks has protected many of the best remaining mature forests in Montgomery County, and most are in pretty good condition despite the challenges facing them.

On the not-so-good side, new forests are not being generated that have the diversity and complexity of older ones. For a variety of reasons – including too many deer, invasive species and poor seed distribution – many important trees such as oaks, hickories and dogwoods are not reproducing well in our area. Forests are kind of like kids; the best time to influence them is when they are young. If a diverse stand of trees can be established in old fields, they have a chance of someday maturing into forests that can host a diversity of plant and animal life.

“We actually have the opportunity to start the forests of the future,” explained Conservation Director Dave Nolin. “Since we are choosing which trees to plant, we can enhance our forests’ biodiversity.”

Biodiversity is a qualitative measure of any habitat, including forests. The greater a forest’s diversity of native trees, the more varieties of wildlife it can support. So far this year, more than 67,000 trees were planted in Five Rivers MetroParks. About 35,000 of these were planted at the new Great Miami River Wetland Mitigation Bank near Trotwood. As you may recall, this site was a former 550-acre farm that was scheduled to be a landfill.

“Instead, Five Rivers MetroParks stepped in and now that area is being restored to wetland, forest and prairie,” said Conservation Biologist Mike Enright. “The mitigation bank is now a sustainable project that offers developers a site to get wetland credits, which are a requirement if anyone wants to build on a site where a wetland will be displaced. The developer pays a one-time fee, and Five Rivers MetroParks will maintain this viable habitat, making it a win-win-win for conservation, local development and the community, who will benefit from this being transformed into a future MetroPark.”

The trees planted at the Great Miami River Wetland Mitigation Bank can easily be seen from Little Richmond Road looking north between Snyder and Lutheran Church roads. Another 20,000 trees were planted at the Medlar Conservation Area by the contractor JF New. The former farm is in the process of being transformed into a forested area with the end goal of making a new MetroPark.

“This project, called the Shepard’s Run Reforestation Project, was paid for with the help of the Clean Ohio Fund,” Nolin said. “To see this planting area, park at the small parking lot for the Medlar Conservation Area, located at 5040 Medlar Road, near Austin Landing. Park on the west side of the road and walk down the gravel lane on the east side of Medlar Road to see this new forest under construction.”

Volunteers provided an invaluable resource for Five Rivers MetroParks. Without support from volunteers, large-scale projects like the reforestation initiative would prove far more challenging. To date, about 12,000 trees have been planted by MetroParks volunteers.

“These trees were germinated at Cox Arboretum MetroPark by park technician Meredith Cobb with the help of selected MetroParks Tree Corps volunteers,” said Conservation Volunteer Coordinator Yvonne Dunphe.

The trees were then “adopted” by volunteers who took care of trays of the young seedlings at their homes for the summer as part of the Forest Foster Family Program. In 2011 and again this spring and summer, volunteers poured into Cox Arboretum MetroPark and took home a flat of about 20 seedlings they nurtured until the posted return date.

“We would need more greenhouse space to care for all these little trees, so we’re really appreciative of volunteers helping to maintain the seedlings until we’re ready to stick them in the ground and begin their new life as part of a MetroParks forest,” she said.

Seedlings grown during the 2011 Forest Foster Family program got their start in several MetroParks, when Seedling Saturdays swept across the Miami Valley. Volunteers planted trees at Carriage Hill, Germantown and Sugarcreek MetroParks, as well as the Medlar and Shoup Mill conservation areas.

“Where there was a field of honeysuckle, now you see an infusion of blue and white tubes,” Dunphe said. The tubes, also called tree shelters, protect the seedlings, whose tender leaves are a favorite snack for deer and other herbivores. Their shape and light penetration also encourages more rapid growth.

Take part in this innovative and massive reforestation effort! Visit metroparks.org/forests to learn more about reforestation efforts and sign up for volunteer activities online. The next big volunteer phase includes seed and nut collection this fall to germinate the next wave of seedlings. More details are available online.

Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at ValerieBeerbower@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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