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Mark & Peggy Jones

Managing Hardwoods for Sustainability
Couple becomes tree stewards in retirement

After fulfilling careers as a banker and an airline pilot, Mark and Peggy Jones moved to family property in Orange County, Indiana, and became tree farmers in retirement

“We were not trained as farmers,” Mark says. “The forestry experts with Purdue University, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources were essential in helping us become successful in this endeavor."

Now dubbed “Pid's and Pop's Place” by their family, the hardwood farm near French Lick, Indiana, focuses on timber stand improvement and sustainability.

The nearly 150-year-old farm, which originally included a stone quarry and sawmill, contains terrain that does not allow for large plots of traditional row-crop farming. The 164-acre tract includes 35 acres of bottomland with a stream that provides water but also is prone to flooding. Much of the rest is forested.

The first thing we had to do was establish our goals for the timber and the land,” Mark says.

The couple knew the farm needed intensive management to improve its timber resources. One of their first steps was to continue the work Peggy’s grandfather started when he registered the land as a classified forest.

“Trying to nurture the land has been a generational effort,” she says.

The Indiana Classified Forest and Wildlands Program was designed to prevent deforestation and establish district foresters throughout the state to inspect registered forests. The program works with private landowners interested in timber production, watershed protection and wildlife habitat management.

“By registering as a classified forest and wildlands tract, we are not losing control of our land or the forest,” Mark says. “We can’t plant crops, run livestock or build there, otherwise we are not restricted.”

The program's foresters routinely inspect registered forests and advise farmers about improving their property.

“If we want to have woodlands that are sustainable, we have to use recommended best management practices,” Mark says. “We could lose our woods if we ignore them.”

Five-year management plans ensure the couple is clear about their forestry management goals. Measurable outcomes vary from optimizing timber harvest to creating wildlife habitat to increasing wildflower populations.

“These forestry experts will help you meet your goals and all this education is provided at no charge,” Peggy says.

The Jones’ goals include improving their timber stand and controlling invasive weeds and insects. Often, birds spread invasive weed seeds into the forest, creating multiple problems.

Invasives include the multiflora rose, wild grapevine, honeysuckle and Bradford or Callery pear. “It’s the new kudzu of Indiana, and it’s a real problem,” Peggy says.

Emerald ash borer is another destructive invader.

“Our hardwood species in this area were traditionally cherry, oak, hickory and ash,” Mark says. “A decade ago, we were alerted that the insect was becoming a problem in our county. Now, all the ash is gone from our forests.”

The Jones also ensure their hardwoods aid the environment by doing selective timber harvests about every 10 years.

They only cut trees that are near maximum commercial value and would die soon if not harvested. They also remove undesirable species with large canopies that shade out the hardwoods.

We use virtually every part of the tree,” Mark says. “Desirable tree species are turned into lumber and undesirable species usually end up as railroad ties, pallets and landscape timbers.”

Tree crowns are left on the forest floor to quell soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat as they decompose and are eventually reclaimed as topsoil.

“Trees benefit society,” Mark says. “Every acre of woods provides enough oxygen for 18 people to live for a year, and it takes about eight mature trees to produce the oxygen needed for one person. Woods are probably one of the greatest carbon storers on the planet other than ocean seaweed. Without trees, that carbon goes back into the environment.”

The Jones’ sustainability efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. They were named the 2019 Indiana Tree Farmer of the Year and earned the 2018 Orange County Soil and Water Conservation Forest Stewardship Award and the 2017 Charles Deam Forest Stewardship Award for District 3.

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