A preliminary investigation into the status of OSU forests

Simon Power
Matt Davies
Environment and Natural Resources

The Ohio State University owns multiple properties with significant forest cover, including locations dedicated to forestry research and/or teaching. The University, however, lacks explicit knowledge of the extent and condition of forests across its portfolio. Such information will allow us to: (i) enhance our forests ecological and economic resilience; (ii) produce sustainable timber yields to enhance our research and education programs; (iii) provide leadership in sustainable forest management; (iv) expand opportunities for field and experiential learning and professional training; (v) demonstrate the University's commitment to environmental sustainability. Accordingly, we aimed to inventory the OSU forests. This included mapping their extent and establishing a series of ground plots where we assessed forest composition, basal area, and invasive species abundance. Our findings indicated that 3287 acres of forest fall under the University's management. The composition and abundance of canopy tree species in the 154 established plots was highly variable, ranging from monodominant conifer plantations to mixed hardwood stands with up to 9 species. Red Maple was the most abundant (n = 195) and widespread species, occurring in 49% of plots. The standing basal area of canopy trees ranged from 20 ft2 ac-1 in recently harvested plots to 290 ft2 ac-1 in plantations. Although native tree regeneration did not form part of the preliminary analysis, it was noted that recruitment in plots exposed to cattle grazing or high invasive cover was low or completely absent. The abundance and distribution of the 16 invasive species recorded was patchy between and within properties. Amur Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Oriental Bittersweet and Privet were the most common species, with up to 90% cover in some plots. Initial observations indicated that high invasive cover coincided with recent (ca. 5-10 years) natural or human disturbances. Overall, our investigation suggests that OSU has a rich and widespread forest cover that can provide opportunities for student learning and sustainable harvesting. The low and inconsistent abundance of adult and juvenile high value species (e.g., oaks), however, suggests that careful planning should be taken before harvesting. Moreover, where harvesting is planned, initiatives should be implemented to control for invasive species.