A joint federal and Fulton County oak savanna program begun six years ago is enriching acres of Fulton County with a diverse variety of wildflowers and grasses.
The Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) already have seven proposed plantings this year of oak savannas, strategically-spaced clusters of fire-tolerant oak trees that admit enough sunshine for ground-level vegetation growth. All would be planted in November for private property owners.
SWCD spokesperson Pete Carr said the $1,200 per acre cost is considered worthwhile to landowners, who usually have the savannas placed on extremely sandy soil that may not be suitable for crops.
“If you’ve got a sand hill you just cannot produce a crop on, better to do this. It’s an alternative,” he said.
The trees reduce sheet, rill, and wind erosion on the property, improve water quality by reducing sediment and nutrients delivered to streams, and create a unique wildlife habitat, Carr added.
A cost share is available through SWCD and NRCS.
Sixteen different wildflowers and grasses are planted along with the trees. They include the wild lupine, which is host for larva from the Karner blue butterfly, a species that had disappeared from Ohio.
“That’s what’s really neat about it. If we can get the wild lupine established we can bring back the Karner blue butterfly,” Carr said.
The trees are typically placed at least 30 feet apart, with no more than about 25 trees planted per acre. They are often planted in clusters to keep areas of the savanna open.
Unlike a forest, an oak savanna is composed of fire-tolerant oak trees, and has a more open canopy. That allows sunlight to reach ground level so grass and flowering plants can grow.
The county embraced the program to reintroduce and declining habitat, Carr said. Presently, about 500 acres in Fulton County are devoted to oak savannas.
“The federal government thought it was unique for Fulton County,” he said.
The program is also available in Henry County and the western portion of Lucas County, in conjunction with the Oak Openings region.
A 10-acre oak savanna was planted at Sauder Village in Archbold in 2014. Steve Sauder, director of grounds and facilities, said the results have been pleasing.
“We are happy with the growth we’re seeing in our oak savanna, with a number of wildflowers already growing late last summer,” he said. “We are hoping to have some walking trails in place yet this summer for campers and other guests, allowing them to get an up-close look at this conservation project.”
Carr said the savannas have proven vital to the county, and provide a unique element of nature.
“They’ve all been very, very successful,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.