Friday, August 11, 2017

Habitat Hero: John Hoover

Landowner, John Hoover

John Hoover, a Centre County Pennsylvania forest landowner, in fact, John was Tree Farmer of the Year for Pennsylvania in 2011, is featured as a “Habitat Hero” by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Habitat Heroes are America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who demonstrate how wildlife and working lands can prosper together. They are caring for wildlife while producing food and fiber the nation needs to strengthen rural communities.

John’s Habitat Hero story is by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), one of NRCS’ conservation partners working to help private landowners adopt conservation measures that benefit forestry and agricultural operations while helping birds and other wildlife species. John is working with the NRCS, AMJV and other partners including the American Bird Conservancy to manage for both golden-winged warbler and cerulean warbler habitat through Working Lands for Wildlife and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

John says walking through his Pennsylvania forest is like walking through rooms of a house. "Each room is different and has its own use," he says, referring to the different age classes of tree stands on his property. Some are old. Some are young. Over the years, John has learned a diverse forest can yield better timber while benefiting wildlife.

Click here to view an interactive version of the feature presentation.

Story by Matt Cimitile, Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture

View from Hoover's property
Since 1866 – a year after the end of the Civil War – John Hoover’s family has owned property in Centre County, Pennsylvania. Over the decades, the largely forested property became subdivided and boundary lines and titles blurred with most of the land going into disuse. Nearly 40 years ago, when John inherited a portion of the original property, he figured the best way to unclutter boundary lines and make better use of the land was to buy as much of the surrounding forest and original deed as possible.

“I’m a mechanical engineer and mostly dealt in new product design and development,” said Hoover. “And this land issue was a challenge, a unique problem that I wanted to solve. It took me more than a dozen years but I ended up bringing together 600 acres under single ownership.”

Hoover currently lives in Connecticut but plans to retire soon and relocate to a home next to his forest.

The land is situated in a corridor that connects the 5,900-acre Bald Eagle State Park with 4,000 acres of State Game Lands. Its location makes it a potentially valuable commodity as a linkage for wildlife and natural resources, a vital connector between two protected areas.

“Something that occurred to me after I acquired all this land, is that I didn’t really have a goal in mind for the property itself,” said Hoover. “So, I talked with a forester, and he told me about the benefits of harvesting trees for the health of the forest and as a way to enhance game species such as deer, turkey and grouse.”

The first harvest, which cut and thinned out aspen trees, saw a dramatic increase in game species on the land. Six more harvests followed. Each targeted at a specific section of the property.

Each successful harvest helped his bottom line by selling timber while diversifying both his forest and the species of wildlife that visited it.

“As I walk through the land, I look at it as entering different rooms of a house. Each room is different and has its own use," Hoover said.

"The property is subdivided like that, with individual smaller and uneven aged tracts created by forest harvests conducted at different times. Some with really intense management, and others where I have not done anything."

Getting Help
Hoover has reached out for help along the way, including the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture (AMJV), USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), American Bird Conservancy, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever and others.

Through these groups, Hoover was able to get technical and financial assistance to help plan and implement forest management practices. With this help, he has not only improved his bottom line, but he has been able to create top-notch wildlife habitat.

Right now, Hoover is participating in two conservation efforts.

golden-winged warbler
The first is Working Lands for Wildlife, an NRCS-led effort to help private landowners like Hoover restore declining habitats to help at-risk species. In the Appalachians, NRCS is helping landowners manage for young forests to benefit the golden-winged warbler and other species.

Golden-winged warblers in the last 45 years have suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird. Since the 1960s, the young forests that the bird uses for nesting has decreased by 43 percent in the Appalachians.

Working with foresters and biologists, Hoover developed a management plan and then went about creating young forest habitat on his property to provide ideal foraging space, shelter, and nesting sites for a host of wildlife that depend on this type of ecosystem.

cerulean warbler
Meanwhile, Hoover is also participating in the Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement Project, which is led by AMJV and funded through NRCS' Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The regional project seeks to implement active forest management on private lands to improve 12,500 acres of forest habitat and 1,000 acres of reclaimed mine lands for the cerulean warbler, offsite link image     which like the golden-winged warbler, has suffered from population declines.

Cerulean warblers prefer older forests with canopy openings, which like young forests, are not common in Appalachia. Hoover is currently thinning out dense mature forest areas that contain tall deciduous trees to create open canopies and gaps to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, promoting the growth of saplings, shrubs, and other vegetation in the forest understory.

Multiple Benefits
In addition to helping the golden-winged warbler and cerulean warbler, managing for healthier forests also leaves the best trees on the tract: tall, straight, and defect free. They will be the seed source for the next trees that make up the future forest, Hoover said.

“I am blessed and lucky to have a good chunk of land that allows me to do different activities on different sections,” said Hoover. “I’m able to focus on hardwood development in one area that doesn’t benefit wildlife as much but benefits trees, and in other areas I can focus management that is best for bird and other wildlife habitat.”

“The mix of all this activity creates various forest stages on the property that works out very well for wildlife and the overall health of the land.”

Want to Learn More?
To learn more about assistance opportunities, landowners should contact their local USDA service center.

You can meet some of the other producers managing for top-notch wildlife habitat on their working lands by visiting the NRCS Habitat Hero web page.

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