By Kurt Knebusch
When a tree falls -- is felled -- in a forest in Ohio, it supports a $22-billion-a-year industry and more than 100,000 jobs. And is replaced by more than two trees worth of new growth.
So says an Ohio State University specialist who is documenting the green that grows in the state's woods.
Eric McConnell, a forest operations and products specialist in Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, is researching and writing a series of fact sheets on the economic impact of Ohio's forest industry, which includes timber, logging, paper, wood products and furniture manufacturing.
His goal, he says, is to help landowners, businesspeople and regulators make informed decisions about the industry.
"Sustainably managing our woodlands plays a critical role in the economic health of Ohio's rural economies," he says.
Among his findings:
•About a third of Ohio, or about 8 million acres, is forested -- most of it by maples, oaks, hickories and other hardwoods -- with about 75 percent of that acreage held by private, nonindustrial owners such as farmers.
•Ohio's forest industry contributed $22.05 billion to the state's economy in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available.
•The industry provides 118,000 full- and part-time jobs for Ohio workers, who earn wages and benefits totaling $5.69 billion.
•Ohio's total timber volume -- its "growing stock" -- has gone up 37.4 percent in the past 20 years, while its "sawtimber" -- trees that are big enough to process for lumber -- has increased even more, by 67.6 percent.
•Also over the past 20 years, the net-growth-to-removal ratio for Ohio's growing stock was 2.13 to 1, and for its sawtimber was 2.49 to 1, which means the state's forests added more than twice as much timber volume as they lost through harvesting.
"Overall, Ohio's forest industry has seen an increase in both direct and total impacts since the previous economic assessment (in 2005)," McConnell says. "Other states with significant forest industries haven't been so fortunate."
But Ohio's forest industry has been hammered lately, too, he said. Rising costs, cheap imports and the Great Recession have caused production cuts, plant closures, smaller markets for landowners to sell their timber in and, as a result, less money for landowners to spend on managing their woods.
"Traditional products and markets are essential to Ohio's forest industry, but they're not enough to ensure the industry's longevity given the current economic conditions," McConnell says. He said he hopes the fact sheets make both the industry and Ohio's woods even healthier.
Included in the series is "Ohio's Forest Economy", which is a statewide look at such topics as acreage, land ownership, tree-species composition, the range of the state's wood products, the importance of managing forests and sources for learning how to manage forests better.
Also available are fact sheets on individual counties: Belmont, Coshocton, Crawford, Defiance, Fairfield, Holmes, Jackson, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pike and Ross. Further titles are being worked on, McConnell said. Links to all the available fact sheets are located here.
"An interesting thing to note from the fact sheets is that even counties with a much more significant agricultural base still contribute to the state's forest economy," he says. "For instance, for eight consecutive years, harvesting forest products on farms in Ohio has generated at least $20 million in revenue. Timber income makes up only a small part of the overall farm enterprise in Ohio, but it still generates jobs, economic activity and local taxes.
"More urban counties also contribute to the forest economy, because secondary forest product industries tend to concentrate near population centers."
McConnell works for CFAES's statewide outreach arm, Ohio State University Extension, and is an assistant professor in the college's School of Environment and Natural Resources.
The fact sheet project, he said, "will also serve as a benchmark for policymakers who may have undervalued the impacts of the forest industry in their local areas."
SENR, among its programs, supports teaching, research and outreach on managing woodlands and timber.
"The timber industry is a vital part of Ohio's economy," SENR Director Ron Hendrick says. "It provides jobs for a great many Ohioans and contributes to our tax base and quality of life.
"Timber harvesting can also be a critical part of managing forests for a variety of other values, including recreation and wildlife habitat," he said.
"Understanding these resources, their economic contributions to communities and how to properly manage them is key to a vibrant forest economy."
Knebusch writes for OSU Extension