A forest is a plant community of mostly trees and other woody plants growing closely together. Forests provide many benefits: as homes for wildlife, filters for air and water and recreation.
In the last 200 years Ohio’s forest cover has gone from 95% to 10%. Today, Ohio has recovered hundreds of acres of forest. Over a half-billion trees have been planted, increasing the forest cover to over 30%.
Following the retreat of the last ice sheet to cover our region, a “Prairie Peninsula” was established across present day Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Historically, these landscapes occurred as scattered pockets of open field habitat within the forested landscape. Today, less of 1% of Ohio’s original prairies remain intact.
The distinct trait of prairie communities is that they are stable and self-perpetuating, rather than a stage in natural succession towards a forest. The unique characteristics of prairie plants enable them to endure drought, fire and poor nutrient levels. About two-thirds of a prairie actually exist underground as an extensive root system. While individual prairie roots live only a short time, the entire plant can live for centuries. Prairies are comprised of various types of grasses and diverse mixes of wildflower species, known as “forbs.” Forbs represent a wide array of flowering plants that provide abundant food for insects, particularly moths and butterflies. Prairies also create habitat for many birds in the form of food, cover and nesting areas.
Prescribed burns are necessary to maintain the prairie’s health. It is an effective tool that helps control woody growth and prevents the prairie from evolving into a young forest. Burning dried remains of the previous year’s growth benefits new plants and provides important nutrients to the soil. This is how the various grasses and wildflowers are able to thrive.
Prairie burns are usually scheduled for early spring during the months of February through April. The park staff chooses this time frame as to not disrupt the animals that begin nesting in late April and early May. After considerable planning over the winter, park staff and a burn team choose the areas that are in need of management. Typically, prairies are burned on a three to five year rotation depending on the overall health of the prairie.
Precautions are taken to assure the burn is safe for the public and surrounding areas. A team of highly trained park staff plan and execute the burns. Property owners who are adjacent to a selected burn site are notified by letter that a burn will take place. Also, most prairies have a firebreak in place which is widened prior to a burn. Parks are not closed during a burn but there is limited access to certain areas based on public safety.
Ohio Native Plants
Visit the University of Texas Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to learn more about native plants. Pick a state to view native plants in the area. This list represents a large variety of species native to Ohio that can be used for a variety of habitats.
Invasive species are any plant or animal that is not native to the area and has adverse effects on the habitat or region it is living in. These effects can be environmentally, economically and/or even socially damaging. There are approximately 50,000 non-native species in the U.S. and of those non-natives about 5,000 are considered invasive. You may think that this is a small number; however these species can do some major damage.
A few of Ohio's invasive species are garlic mustard, honey suckle and the emerald ash borer (click on each to learn more). Since these species have no natural predators in their new homes, they can spread rampantly. The spread of invasive species causes a loss of biodiversity and disrupts the way an ecosystem works. This can eventually impose large costs on a variety of enterprises such as agriculture, forestry and fishing. The cost to control invasive species and the damages they inflict upon property and natural resources in the U.S. is estimated at $137 billion annually.
So what can you do to offset these high costs? Three of the most important things you can do to prevent the spread and introduction of invasive species are to make sure you do not have invasive species in your own yard, clean your recreation equipment after use and not to release unwanted pets or fish into the wild. Since most invasive species have been introduced accidentally, these simple steps can help to control invasive pests.
For more information visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website.