American Electric Power, The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and The Conservation Fund Assist in Purchase

Columbus, Ohio – Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Sean Logan today announced the state’s intention to purchase the 15,849-acre Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest. The area represents Ohio’s largest, last contiguous forested block still available for permanent protection.

The Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the United States and home to more than 50 years of ongoing forest research. The state negotiated a $15.1 million purchase price, 70 percent of which will come from federal and private funds. ODNR will seek approval to release $3.9 million in already appropriated capital funds to complete the purchase of the Vinton County property by July 2010. The land will be managed as the Vinton Furnace Experimental State Forest.

“I am grateful for the public and private interests who have come together to help support Ohio’s purchase of the forest. This will ensure protection of a beautiful natural area and also maintain an important national research facility,” said Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. “This is an important part of our commitment to preserve our natural resources and land for future generations to enjoy.”

“Vinton Furnace represents one of the most important forest research and demonstration sites east of the Mississippi River. It is used for sustainable forest management research, for practical training by Ohio’s $15 billion wood industry, and as a popular hunting destination for sportsmen and women from across the state,” said Logan. “This agreement will forever protect this forest, assure that its use serves the public, and that it will remain available as an ecological, recreational and economic resource for all the people of Ohio.”

Located 75 miles southeast of Columbus, the forest is home to the state’s largest known population of bobcats, and is also home to black bears, timber rattlesnakes, cerulean warblers and several rare plant species.

“The Vinton Furnace Experimental State Forest is an invaluable asset for Ohio,” said Senator George V. Voinovich. “I am pleased that the private, state, and federal effort to protect the forest will be a success. It goes to show that when we harmonize our environment, energy and economy, everyone benefits.”

“This partnership between the public and private sector will preserve Vinton Furnace for future generations of Ohioans,” said Senator Sherrod Brown. “This isn’t just about protecting our environment, it’s about strengthening our state’s forestry research for the 21st century.”

The State will sign an ‘Intent to Purchase’ agreement with the current owners of the forest, an investment fund managed by The Forestland Group, LLC, to acquire the 3,250-acre Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest, as well as 12,599 surrounding acres known as the Raccoon Ecological Experimental Forest, as well as 12,599 surrounding acres known as the Raccoon Ecological Management Area (REMA).

“Today’s announcement marks a terrific accomplishment for forestry, wildlife, outdoor recreation and rural communities in Ohio and across the Midwest,” said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Virginia. “We commend the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, American Electric Power, Ohio’s congressional delegation, USDA Forest Service, Rockies Express East, the Forestland Group and other partners for their terrific leadership to leave a lasting conservation legacy for future generations.”

“This purchase is only possible with the investment of funds provided through American Electric Power, Rockies Express Pipeline, The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as with federal Forest Legacy program funds administered by the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry,” said David Lytle, state forester and chief of the ODNR Division of Forestry. “The broad-based support of so many different public agencies, private companies and non-profit organizations demonstrates the significance of permanently protecting this great forest.”

“Not only does this project bring important funding home to Vinton County, it also preserves one of Ohio’s great treasures while protecting more than 50 years of important research,” said U.S. Congressman Zack Space, 18th Ohio District. “This is truly a win-win for the economy of
Southeastern Ohio.”

Since 1952, land at the Vinton Furnace has been dedicated towards forest use and sustainability research; an agreement formalized between previous owner Mead Corporation and the USDA Forest Service in 1965. The USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station currently employs one manager and two forest technicians at the Vinton Furnace to assist with overall care and maintenance of the site.

“Research conducted at the Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest deepens our knowledge of the growth and ecological function of the central hardwood forests,” said Michael Rains, Director of the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. “A great deal remains to be learned as our forests continue to be threatened by an ever growing list of new pests and diseases. We applaud the State’s effort to permanently protect this priceless resource, and we offer our ongoing commitment to maintain this research facility.”

Over the past decade, the USDA Forest Service has provided $1.5 million in payroll support for employees working at the Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest and has brought into Ohio more than $2 million in grants, which funded research at the Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest.

“I am very excited about bringing resources to Vinton County that contribute to our region’s quality of life and economic development,” said State Representative Clyde Evans. “This acquisition will provide recreation opportunities for persons in our area and from around the state while preserving the beauty that characterizes southern Ohio.”

“I’d like to acknowledge U.S. Senators George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown, as well as Congressman Zack Space for their assistance in helping the state acquire federal funding to help make the project possible,” said Logan.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR web site at www.ohiodnr.com.