Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife (ODNR DOW)

The Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) is a division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) tasked broadly with managing and maintaining wildlife habitat and high-quality wildlife experiences for Ohioans now and into the future.

 

At present, they manage approximately 196,000 acres across 138 land holdings. As part of their strategic plan to sustainably manage Ohio’s diverse wildlife resources over the long term, ODOW focuses on harvest regulations, licensing, and land acquisition. Their mission is upheld by several pillars, including dedication to maintaining diversity in fish and wildlife populations, emphasis on sustainable hunting, management based on the best available science, and a commitment to conservation.

In 2014, F4 Tech joined forces with ODOW and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) to assist with forest management efforts on 21 wildlife management areas (WMAs) totaling approximately 76,000 acres in the eastern and southeastern portions of the state. The purpose of this project, which receives direct funding and general support from the National Wild Turkey Federation, is  to develop data to be used as a decision support tool for forest ecosystem planning and wildlife habitat management. Since ODOW and NWTF were interested in managing these WMAs for key wildlife species such as deer and turkey but did not have any information on forested areas or habitat condition, our first step was to delineate forest stands. We developed GIS models that analyzed forest species composition (hardwoods vs. conifers), tree height (derived from LiDAR data made available through the State of Ohio), aspect (northeast vs. southwest), and relative slope position (low, mid, or high slopes).  This modeling was done to break each WMA into manageable units of similar characteristics. Because the stands were generated from GIS models, we could iterate the models for all 21 WMAs, producing an unbiased output. In the future, we will have the ability to use these models to delineate forested areas on other WMAs across Ohio as well.

Delineating forested areas helped ODOW target specific forest types for certain wildlife management strategies. For example, wild turkeys prefer mid- to late-successional forest communities with open understories that are also proximal to fields or clearings. These conditions help promote roosting, brooding, and feeding. By using LiDAR data, we were able to highlight mature forests based on canopy height in addition to any canopy gaps or open areas. This produced a dataset of potential suitable habitat for wild turkeys that ODOW can use to implement their long-term management practices.

In 2015, F4 Tech conducted a forest vegetation inventory on five WMAs totaling approximately 20,000 acres in the eastern portion of the state designated by ODOW as conservation and management priorities for several species of wildlife. Because ODOW was managing for wildlife and not just timber, their data collection protocol was customized to measure forest metrics that assisted with these goals. Additionally, ODOW uses the U.S. Forest Service’s Oak SILVAH software to generate prescriptions for hardwood forest management. Based on the data needed to run Oak SILVAH, we designed a customized sampling approach that considered invasive species, several measures of midstory and understory vegetation, and hardwood regeneration. Armed with this data, ODOW is prepared to conduct targeted invasive species removal efforts and develop long-term management plans on a stand-by-stand basis to restore northern hardwoods and enhance wildlife habitat.