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Some community members question plan for Poland Municipal Forest

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

By Jordyn Grzelewski


Some community members, including a descendant of the woman whose land donation was instrumental in establishing Poland Municipal Forest, say they are concerned about a forest management plan now being considered by village council.

“I think that she would be adamantly opposed to the plan,” said Dorothy Butler, referring to her great-grandmother, Grace Heath Butler. “I am here to represent her voice.”

A joint meeting of village council and the forest board to discuss the plan is scheduled for 7 tonight at village hall. The public will have the opportunity to comment.

Grace Butler was a prominent figure in the Mahoning Valley in the 20th century. She was married to Henry Audubon Butler, son of Joseph G. Butler Jr., an industrialist, historian and philanthropist who established the Butler Institute of American Art.

Grace Butler was a devoted civic leader, serving as president of the Butler’s board for many years and founding Youngstown’s YWCA, Garden Club and Junior League, among other endeavors, according to information provided by her great-granddaughter.

In 1934, Butler donated 150 acres of her and her husband’s land to the village, according to Vindicator files. The municipal forest, which combined that property with a 50-acre park, was officially established by council in 1938 and was hailed by The Vindicator as “the first of its kind in Ohio.”

Butler is calling for the Poland community to “Stand with Grace” in opposition to a plan commissioned by the Poland Municipal Forest Board. She is joined by others in the community, including Lauren Schroeder, Youngstown State University professor emeritus of evolution and ecology.

Since a tree-killing insect killed many ash trees in the forest, village officials have pondered more active management of the property that has mostly been left to its own devices over the decades.

The forest board commissioned a plan from certified consulting forester Rick Miller, who recommends that the village establish a brand, logo and mission for the forest, and work to develop a long-range plan for its management. He also spelled out several key objectives, such as reforestation (he recommends targeted removal of dead or dying trees in higher-traffic areas, and planting new trees in certain areas) and removal of invasive species, among others.

Steps such as tree and plant removal go too far, in some people’s opinion. Schroeder and others argue that the forest should be left in its natural state.

Schroeder pointed to an ash tree ravaged by the emerald ash borer.

“The risk of that tree falling and injuring someone is miniscule. It’s like one in 2 billion,” he said. “It provides a habitat for birds and animals, and when it decays, it provides nutrients.

“The dead trees are as much a part of the forest as living trees.”

He is worried, too, about the forest’s ability to age.

“Given enough time, it will be an old-growth forest. But not if we implement the forester’s plan,” he said.

Schroeder also pointed out an area identified in Miller’s report as a target for invasive-species removal.

“The way they want to eliminate is to cut them out,” Schroeder said. “We think that’s a bit draconian. It would really devastate this area.”

An alternative, he said, would be to encourage the growth of forest canopy trees, which would reduce the growth of invasive species.

An invasive species “should be evaluated on the basis of where it is, what it’s competing with, and its own value,” said Randy Jones, also among those questioning the forester’s recommendations.

The group agreed that certain minor projects, such as construction of small boardwalks over wetland areas, should be pursued. And Schroeder agrees with recommendations such as development of a forest logo and mission.

But he is opposed to any plan that would significantly alter the forest.

“I think the beauty of the forest is its wilderness,” he said.

Butler believes her great-grandmother would have agreed.

“My great-grandmother’s vision was to keep the forest in as natural a state as possible,” she said.