The largest block of public forest in Ohio is soon to be 1,200 acres larger! The strategic acquisition, to be purchased through the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, would provide increased landscape continuity between Ohio’s Shawnee State Park and The Nature Conservancy’s Edge of Appalachia Preserve. For land and wildlife managers alike, fragmented ownership is a headache and a reality of doing conservation in many parts of the East. So for Ohio’s largest chunk of contiguous public forest to grow by nearly 2 square miles in a single purchase, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Shawnee State Forest is justified in their excitement. All 1,200 acres are located in Scioto County.
Shawnee State Forest — dubbed “Ohio’s Little Smokies”— is well-known by recreationists of all stripes as a top destination in southern Ohio. The statewide Buckeye Trail integrates the remote Backpack Loop Trail, and birders get their first annual look at many spring migratory species as northbound flocks hop the Ohio River. The Ohio Division of Forestry has actively promoted sustainable timber harvests across the 60,000-plus acres for decades, and Shawnee is widely recognized as possessing an impressive range of forest stand ages, forest stand structures, and diverse wildlife habitats for many game and non-game species. Wild turkey and white-tailed deer are abundant and can be pursued in both readily-accessible frontcountry scenarios as well as some of the most remote backcountry available statewide. Perhaps most notably, at least from a wildlife perspective, Shawnee State Forest remains a hold-out bastion of hope for the state’s dwindling ruffed grouse population, primarily because of the land’s commitment to active forest management.
Since it was established in 2005, Ohio’s Forest Legacy Program has added almost 10,000 acres to the state’s public land treasure troves. Though a final purchase price is yet to be appraised and negotiated for these 1,200 acres, a cost-share arrangement will require the state of Ohio to match every three federal quarters with a twenty-five cent piece of its own. The Nature Conservancy and Buckeye Trail Association are among the partners supporting the acquisition, and the Ohio Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is doing our homework to ensure our support is “on the record.”
-Gabriel Karns, Policy and Legislation co-chair