Forests For Future Generations

Nature Academy

What kind of forest will we leave for the next generation? These white tree tubes protect nearly 10,000 saplings that were planted by volunteers at Miami Whitewater Forest. The bright oak leaves in the foreground give us a hint at the fall beauty they will show future generations of nature enthusiasts.

Dry Fork Meadow tree planting (MWF)

This reforestation work is badly needed, because our forests are under attack on many fronts by invasive plants and insects that threaten to derail our natural heritage. Insects such as emerald ash borer are showing their effects by killing millions of ash trees in our region. Another insect, the Asian longhorned beetle, threatens to kill a much wider array of species including maple and buckeye trees. Bush honeysuckle, a non-native plant that is already well-established, uses the sunlight of forest edges and openings to explode into thick monocultures that shade out the forest understory.

Individual trees grow, individual trees die and the next generation fills in. This has been the forest cycle in our region for tens of thousands of years, since glaciation. Canopy openings created when a tree dies allow shafts of sunlight to stimulate the next generation. Occasional forest fires also influence this cycle. The fires clear out more area and stimulate the regeneration of native oaks, which provide food and shelter for a diversity of bird and animal life. They are the cornucopia of our native forests.

With emerald ash borer now well-established, some argue that the effects of this insect will be comparable to the catastrophic loss of American chestnut to blight in the early 20th century.  What’s more serious about this crisis is the compound effects of ash die-back in tandem with the presence of bush honeysuckle in the forest. As forest canopies open due to ash die-back, sunlight shines through the canopy opening and stimulates more aggressive honeysuckle growth that out-competes native canopy trees. Once the honeysuckle thickens, it nearly extinguishes the sunlight below, which means that the next generation of beneficial oaks and other canopy trees are snuffed out. Trees grow, trees die and honeysuckle thickets take over.

Forests need us now more than ever. Human hands are needed to intervene and plant beneficial canopy trees to keep the cycle alive. To this end, we urge you to support the Green Umbrella Taking Root campaign to plant two million trees in the Greater Cincinnati area by the year 2020. Great Parks has embraced this campaign and committed to planting 60,000 trees in the parks over the next three years alone. You can help by volunteering to plant trees at community events, plant trees in your yard and support Taking Root. Help us sustain healthy forests for future generations!

Bret Henninger, Natural Resource Manager