GATES MILLS — Council is working to rewrite village logging ordinances that now do not align with rules from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Village ordinances on the books are too “restrictive,” said ODNR forester John Kehn, who is now working with officials to revise village laws to comply with state rules.
In December, council unanimously passed three ordinances regarding agricultural use of property in the village. The ordinances amended the zoning code to allow tree cutting for economic gain of residents already in such state-approved programs, limited the revenue that a resident could receive to $2,000 and created new tree cutting regulations.
Mr. Kehn said some of the village rules are too restrictive. “If you can’t harvest, then you can’t be in the program,” he said, explaining that economic gain is a byproduct of forest management.
Four village residents are involved in either of two logging programs that offer a tax incentive. One is the Current Agricultural Use Value program, which is administered by the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s Office. This program has tax incentives with a formula that includes soil types and commodity prices, according to Mr. Kehn. Overall, he said that the CAUV incentive is 80 percent to 90 percent off of property taxes on the portion of land being logged. Property owners who leave the program must pay a three-year back tax penalty, he said.
ODNR administers the Ohio Forest Tax Law program used by some residents. Mr. Kehn said that OFTL is clear-cut in how land qualifies for the program, and is administered the same way in each county. OFTL offers a 50 percent tax credit on land in the program.
Participants of either program must have at least 10 acres of qualified property, he added.
“The goal is that Gates Mills wants to retain the visual and environmental integrity of the village,” Mr. Kehn said. “The village also doesn’t want their residents to lose their tax credits.”
Mr. Kehn said that he would like to enter a memorandum of understanding with Gates Mills to assist the village in its upcoming tree cutting projects. The next step in revising ordinances, Mr. Kehn said, is to inform village officials on the best practices of forest management. Gates Mills could be a future model for how to conduct managed sales, he said.
“We want to come to communities with a solution,” he said.
On Feb. 5, Mr. Kehn took council members and village officials on a field trip around neighboring Geauga County to show the group what a managed and unmanaged sale looks like over time.
Councilwoman Nancy Sogg said that she learned how a forest can be properly managed.
“It would be in Gates Mills’ interest for property owners who remain in the programs to do any kind of forest management appropriately,” she said. “It’s great to educate the community on forest management. We want our community to be green.”
Mr. Kehn stressed the importance of a forester, who manages timber sales and makes decisions on which trees will be cut. Consulting foresters would mark the trees, do inventory and manage the sale. Unmanaged sales do not use a forester, Mr. Kehn explained.
“The forester makes these decisions based on the goals of the landowner, the aesthetic that the municipality wants and environmental and water quality concerns,” he said.
Mr. Kehn took the group to his residence in Burton, a managed sale area, where a logger currently is cutting trees. He said that he plans to remove V-shaped trees and trees with double trunks, which may fall over during a storm and damage other trees. Gates Mills officials also visited property owned by the city of Akron in Geauga County near the LaDue Reservoir, where a managed timber sale took place six months ago. On both properties, the trees were plentiful and healthy, according to Mr. Kehn, because the timber sale was managed by a forester.
“You can keep a forest perpetually healthy with good management,” he said.
While maintaining a forest, Mr. Kehn said that a forester maximizes four things: aesthetic quality, economic opportunity, wildlife habitat diversity and water quality.
Next, the Gates Mills group visited two unmanaged sites on Valley Road in Auburn. One property was cut last fall, and the other was cut about 10 years ago, Mr. Kehn said. The property with the newer cut was almost completely cleared of trees, with only a few remaining. The ground was full of ruts because the logging trucks came when the weather was wet, contrary to the practice of waiting until the land is either dry or frozen, Mr. Kehn explained.
The property that was cut 10 years ago had some trees that showed sun scalding, he said, which occurs when a tree is suddenly isolated after having grown in a group. Mr. Kehn said that logging companies often use the phrase “select cut” in their contract, which gives them free range to cut trees on the property.
He advised Gates Mills officials that it is possible to keep the forested aesthetic of their community and keep their residents in the logging programs. Mr. Kehn said that council members have spent a lot of time learning about logging and how to update ordinances to fit the needs of residents and comply with state practices.
“They have really gone above and beyond,” he said. “They’ve been very supportive.”