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Reforestation Provides Cleaner Water and Hope for the Future

NRCS District Conservationist talks to producers Ron and Jill Osting about their conservation planRon and Jill Osting of Putnam County, Ohio, decided to convert a troublesome agricultural field in a floodplain to a hardwood forest with a little help from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  In the past, the Osting’s battled floods on this 10-acre plot almost annually; losing crops, forage, and even livestock swept away by raging floodwaters. 

Land like the Osting’s along the Auglaize River floods frequently and with increasing severity.  Agriculture is the predominant land use in this watershed, so when the land floods, precious soil and nutrients are swept from the Auglaize into the Maumee River, eventually emptying into Lake Erie’s Toledo Harbor.  The Army Corps of Engineers can’t keep up with demands for dredging this vital international port and Lake Erie suffers from worsening algae blooms from nutrients washed off of the fields. The problems not only affect individual families like the Ostings, but entire communities dependent on the rivers and lakes for their livelihood.  Fortunately, the Osting’s decided they’d had enough and contacted their local NRCS office for advice. 

In Putnam County, Ohio, NRCS District Conservationist Terry Schroeder is all too familiar with the natural resource damage caused by floods.  For two decades he’s helped Putnam County landowners find ways of treating these problems, including suggesting programs like the Emergency Watershed Protection Program for Floodplain Easements (EWPP/FPE).  Funds from the GLRI go to programs including the EWPP/FPE so landowners can afford to place conservation easements on flood prone areas. 

Along with the conservation easement, the land is restored to the state it was in prior to agricultural use.  This part of the Osting’s land is a forested floodplain, so Schroeder developed a conservation plan to reforest this area.  “By returning the land to its original state and planting hardwood native trees, there will be diversity in landscape, wildlife benefits, decreased sediment runoff, and less soil erosion,” he explained.  The Osting’s decided to plant 4,600 native trees including black walnut, pin oak, shellbark hickory, and swamp white oak, along with a few shrubs and conifers.

In this case, reforesting with native hardwoods had an added benefit of reforesting this area that’s seen thousands of ash trees die from the emerald ash borer in the past few years.  By planting several species of hardwoods, a species-specific pest or disease, like the emerald ash borer or chestnut blight, will not destroy the majority of the forest. 

“I want to bring the land back to its original state and have trees to attract wildlife for recreational benefits so that my children and grandchildren can enjoy the land,” Ron Osting said.  Now this dream for his families’ future can come true, thanks to Terry Schroeder, the NRCS, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

Photo caption:  District Conservationist Terry Schroeder, center, shows Jill and Ron Osting the conservation plan maps outlining the property that will be restored to its’ original condition through the Emergency Watershed Protection Programs’s Floodplain Easement Program and with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.