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Published: Wednesday, 11/2/2005

Fulton County: It's kinda nutty, but the squirrels like it


WAUSEON - If any squirrels die from starvation this winter at the stockpile site for a seed-to-tree program, they likely were just plain lazy.

Here's why:

In the coming weeks, thousands of pounds of nuts - mostly acorn and black walnut - will be delivered to the storage area by the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District staff. The nuts, donated by area residents, are designated for a reforestation project that has taken root and is branching out as more people learn about it.

But sometimes, the resident rodents help themselves.

You can almost picture the squirrels there now, awaiting arrival of nut mountain. Lined up along the road, drool bibs tucked under chins; nut crackers clamped in furry paws.

Each year, Dave Sherry says, the on-site squirrels are "fat and sassy" after the winter feeding frenzy.

And each spring since the program started, seeds planted by stockpiling squirrels sprout up, and row after row of tiny trees line the area. But in spite of squirrels, most seeds survive just fine, and come spring time, are ready for planting, said Mr. Sherry, conservation district technician.

Harry Bruner, a regular donor to the reforestation effort, last week dumped the last of his black walnuts at the district's collection site. Two years ago, when the seed-to-tree program began, he donated 65 bushels of his walnuts.

His fall the total was about 45 bushels, gathered from his yard, where 26 black walnut trees stand straight and tall. A labor-saving device, available from the district's office, is used to gather the walnuts. He has special assistance as well.

"My grandchildren help me," said Mr. Bruner, who lives near Delta.

Through the program, a variety of seeds - black walnut; red, white, pin, bur, or swamp white oak; hickory; red or sugar maple; green or white ash, and black cherry - are collected from donors to seed land in the county, including acreage enrolled in the federal conservation reserve program and the wetland reserve program. Reforestation efforts target about 50 acres per year in the county.

Mr. Sherry said that as far as he knows, Fulton County's program is the only direct-seeding reforestation program in Ohio. A long-time advocate of reforestation, Mr. Sherry was instrumental in implementing the program after he attended a class on the topic a few years ago. Similar reforestation programs are working well in Indiana and Illinois, he said.

Locally, the amount of donated seeds is increasing as word spreads about the program, Mr. Sherry said. "Walnut collection is up from last year. We're getting more and more acorns each year. A lot of people like to have a part in this. They know the seeds reforest 40 to 50 acres each year. They like that."

White oak is planted in the fall; other seeds are planted in the spring. This year a manure spreader randomly scattered the seeds that were mixed with fine, dry sawdust. The sawdust acts as a buffer to prevent breakage. The goal, Mr. Sherry said, is to apply 200 pounds of walnuts to the acre. There are 40 nuts to a pound, he said. With acorns, two pounds per acre are applied. There are about 400 acorns per pound.

Direct seeding in the last two years has resulted in between 1,800 to 3,000 trees per acre, based on stem counts conducted as part of the program's review process, he said.

No thinning is done manually. "It's survival of the fittest," Mr. Sherry said. The strongest trees will survive. Some tender trees will be lost to browsing animals, such as deer.

Years from now, property owners can harvest timber from the reforested land as determined by a forester.

Seeds are still being accepted at the conservation district office at the Robert Fulton Agriculture Center, 8770 State Rt. 108, north of Wauseon.

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