Joining Lytle were Sean D. Logan, director, and Cristie Wilt, chief of communications.
"Dr. Lytle, is a PhD from the University of Minnesota, and I think it's important to note, I feel very fortunate that we have someone as published and passionate as he is," Logan said. "He is also an ecologist, so this is the first time we have had an ecologist head up the Division of Forestry, and not moreso from the harvesting side."
Lytle said his purpose in coming to the area was to discuss the department's management philosophy behind the state's forest management operations.
"The code says 'The chief shall manage state forests for a variety of purposes, including for timber production, but also for wildlife and bio-diversity, and recreation, water quality, environmental quality,'" he said. "And my favorite part: 'And all other benefits the forests provide.'"
Lytle said, because all of those things apply to the management of the forests, it requires some care and some thought to assure each of those issues is being addressed. He also made reference to being responsible to what he termed "a broad constituency across Ohio."
"These are the people's resources. We don't consider them to be forestry resources, these are really for the people of Ohio, and we take that obligation very seriously," he said.
Lytle said forests in the southeast portion of Ohio are among the most diverse in the world, part of the Appalachian forests ecosystem.
"It (southeastern Ohio forests) is more diverse in its plants and animal species than anywhere else, and that is something I don't think a lot of people appreciate," he said. "They are the forests people around here grew up with, but in a global perspective, they are really quite important."
Lytle said the forest is made up of several areas from the bottoms to the higher elevations, with trees such as Buckeye, Sugar Maple, Beech and Ash in the lower region, and Pine and Oak species on the ridge tops, and while a separation of varieties is more of a western model, Shawnee Forest should not follow that pattern.
"You find White Oak from the bottom all the way up to the top, and Red Maple and Yellow Poplar can certainly flow across that whole spectrum," he said. "So what happens to them is the kinds of things like ice storms, insects, disease, all shape the composition of our forest."
Lytle then addressed some other issues involved in forestry management, fire suppression and harvesting regimes, and said some of the old problems and methods of management have changed.
"Fires have been replaced by some other kinds of disturbances - typically harvesting - but also insects and disease and drought that happen," he said. "And as a result of that simplification, we're losing some of the richness and complexities of our forest systems."
Lytle said, in the long term, that can have an effect on the health and vitality of the forests.
"So that's the goal of our management, to maintain that diversity of forest types and forest composition across that landscape, and that is what is truly at the heart of all of our management," he said. "And particularly that is why we look to use the tool of prescribed fires as a way of helping us to meet those end-goals we have with our forests."
Lytle was asked about the scientific data utilized in making prescribed burning as a part of forest management, leading to Oak regeneration.
"A subtle but important difference here. Prescribed fire doesn't cause Oak regeneration. It creates the conditions where Oak regeneration is possible," he responded. "But in order for that to happen, you also have to have a good acorn seed crop, and you have to have good spring conditions and fall conditions so those acorns can become established and grow up into seedlings and eventually into the canopy. So I just want to make that clear. It's not as simple as one-to-one. You put fire on the ground and we get regeneration. We have to do other things as well."
Lytle said another component in the process is to open up the canopy to provide more light for the Oak tree, which is more light-demanding than species such as Red Maple and Sugar Maple, which he said can tolerate and even thrive in low light conditions.
"Without disturbance activity like fire, we see a spread of those species from where they might typically occur in the bottom lands, where we have more moisture and more shady conditions that are more favorable to this," he said. "And so our prescribed fire program is really aimed at maintaining that heterogeneity in our forest so we do have the Oaks and Pine dominated ridges and the mid scopes of our forests; of our landscapes that have a mixture of Oak and Hickory and Ash and other species appropriate to those sites."
In response to the question of recent criticism by area preservation organizations who have opposed prescribed burning and clear cutting as a method of forest management, Lytle said, "That's the goal of our management, to maintain that diversity of forest types and forest composition across that landscape, and why we use tools such as prescribed burning."
Lytle was asked what the results would be if after the experience of prescribed burning and clear cutting is evaluated over the years, and would turn out to be a wrong practice.
"You can go out and clear cut a forest, and do all the things to it, and it will come back as forest. If you stop farming a field, it's going to come back as forest. It's not going to be desert, it's not going to be grass, it's going to be forest," he said. "That is part of the ecosystem that we work with in forests and landscape in natural conditions. That forest is going to have a life-span of its own, and if we were to leave it alone, it will have one set of consequences."
Lytle said his division is responsible for 8 million acres of forest land in Ohio, 90 percent of which is privately owned, and he said when he took the job, he began by reading the Ohio Revised Code as it pertains to the rules and regulations surrounding the Division of Forestry.