OHIO VALLEY — In the past, prairies and meadows dotted Ohio’s landscape and provided a natural habitat for butterflies and insects.
These pollinators have an important role in the ecosystem, that of moving pollen while collecting nectar. An estimated three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce.
With their habitat threatened by human expansion and pesticides, many are disappearing from the landscape. Long-term population trends have seen a decline in pollinators. An example is the estimated 50 percent decrease in adult Monarch butterflies in Ohio.
At Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest, named for the Vinton Iron Furnace, a charcoal furnace built on the property in 1854 to produce iron from local ores, researches are dedicated to restoring Ohio’s diverse ecosystems. Their efforts involve creating and improving pollinator habitat across the state and increasing conservation awareness.
Four miles off the main road in Vinton County near McArthur, the drive to the training center winds through the 12,089-acre forest. Considered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry to be one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the United States, the area has been dedicated for forest use and sustainability research since 1952. The collaboration between Mead Corp., the forest’s previous owner, and the USDA Forest Service provided more than 50 years of ongoing forest research. The data collected has been cited in hundreds of scholarly papers on forest ecology, forest management and wildlife.
Now owned by the Ohio Department of Forestry, the site continues to be used for research and is open to the public. Hiking trails and campgrounds offer visitors the opportunity to explore and enjoy this forest.
The Education and Demonstration Subcommittee of the Vinton Furnace State Forest offers a “2nd Friday Series” that provides an opportunity for Ohioans to learn how important open areas and forest habitats are to native species of plants, animals and insects.
According to OSU Forestry and Natural Resource Specialist David Apsley, the forest is a special and unique place.
“Two-thirds of Ohio’s forests are in the southern part of the state and there were very few programs for the people in those areas.” Ansley said. “And what better place to do so than in Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest.”
The program is presented with support from the Ohio State Extension Agent David Ansley, the University Extension, ODNR-Divisions of Forestry and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, Vinton County Soil and Water Conservation District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hocking College, National Wild Turkey Federation, Glatfelter and Ohio’s SFI Implementation Committee.
This week’s topic for the “2nd Friday Series” featured woodland and prairie pollinators. With prairies, meadows and other open spaces currently filled with blooming flowers, it was a good time for participants to see butterflies and bees in their natural habitat.
Marci Lininger, from the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, presented information on the project. The goal of the Initiative is to educate the public and assist with creating habitats. Lands can be public or private properties and are part of a large-scale effort to reclaim areas that are currently underused.
Ways of promoting the Initiative are community outreach, education, coaching and training through visual presentation and workshops centering on habitat creation, conservation and management.
The group is developing a partner list, a network of people who can help advise groups or individuals interested in establishing a prairie or meadow. The effort takes strategic planning to ensure the viability of such areas.
“It needs to be a group effort to make it happen,“ Lininger said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is responsive to the development of these areas, and has some already in place. One is in Ross County on State Route 207, where two acres of native grass has been planted. Licking County has one in progress on State Route 13. While the effort requires changing mowing schedules and spot herbicides instead of mass spraying, the trade-off is less mowing and spraying during the year for the department.
It is a process to establish the prairies and the area may not look good during the first few years of planting. Sometimes there is public push-back.
“It can look like an unmowed area instead of a habitat in progress and so there are complaints,” Lininger said.
A participant in the group posed the question, “As I drive by an area, how would I know if I were seeing a prairie in process as opposed to a site that isn’t mowed?”
“There is signage,” Lininger responded. “Signs are posted that say “Prairie in Progress.” There is a four-year visual representation when an area is established, and the signage will say ‘Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative’ and list who partners with the initiative.”
She encourages people to call ODOT if they like what they are seeing.
Lininger closed by saying,”This project can be a winner for everyone involved.”
Wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jennifer Finfera, presented photos of butterflies found in Ohio. She shared examples of the diversity of the butterfly population in the state and encouraged participants to establish their own record and collect data of observed specimens.
While museum specimens collected in the past can be an important tool in research, she does not advocate destructive sampling.
“Use a digital camera to collect specimens,” she said. “We need living examples.”
According to Finfera, Ohio is a strategic state for Monarchs, who fly over Lake Erie and Lake Michigan and need to rest and refresh before continuing their migration south. She stressed the importance of prairies having plants that provide food all spring and summer.
The meadow was alive with sounds of various insects as they flew from one brightly colored bloom to another. Research assistant Dave Runkle stood in the middle of the activity to present information on the forest itself. Runkle pointed out a vernal pool and explained they are temporary pools of water, usually at their maximum depth in spring. The name comes from the meaning of the word vernal, which is relating to or occurring in the spring.
The pools are important to the forest because they provide habitat for plants and animals and encourage a diverse population throughout the year.
Alam Komar is with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Forestry Service, and said that this forest was an excellent example of how an area can reclaim itself.
“Some of the forest has been clear-cut and a railroad ran through it at one time,” Komar said. “But you would never know by looking at it now.”
He said the role the Forestry Service is to educate people so they can make informed decisions about land usage.
“Humans have a huge impact on the environment, and it’s all about management,” he said. “Knowing the right way to do things is the best approach. We’re not here to tell you what you can or can’t do, only to provide you with the correct information and to be of assistance.”
Upcoming programs include Fall Wildflowers and Edibles, Monitoring Woodland Wildlife and Identifying Trees in Winter.
For brochures and more information, visit http://u.osu.edu/seohiowoods, contact OSU Extension Vinton County at 740-596-5212 or email David Apsley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551