The Brothers Wehr: Indiana Tree Farmers of the Year

Brothers Dan and Stan Wehr, though following different career paths, found a common interest in forestry, wildlife and good land stewardship. They were recently presented the Robert D. Burke Tree Farmer of the Year Award for their exemplary woodland management.

The Wehr’s own approximately 360 acres of forest and wildlife habitat. Forests are mixed species, but predominately white oak and even rare trees such as black hickory, butternut, blackjack oak, and American chestnut.

Qualifying tracts are in the Indiana Classified Forest & Wildlands program and American Tree Farm System and they have an Indiana Demonstration Forest to share their successes and knowledge. They have toured over 200 people on the property and hosted another 500 visitors during two field days.

The Wehr’s are active members of several organizations; IFWOA, Lincoln Hills RC&D Forestry Committee, Walnut Council, Quail Unlimited and Conservation Clubs. They try not to miss any opportunity to advocate invasive species management, BMPs, and sustainable forestry issues.

Their main goal is to teach their grandchildren to appreciate nature and to pass the land on better than they found it. Stan summed it up: “It is well understood, the better you treat your land, the better it treats you. As a testament, our grandchildren would rather go to “The Farm” than do anything else.”

Management of the Tree Farms

The properties are long-term investments in land and timber. It is understood that nature will grow trees, but nature needs a bit of help to maximize quality. TSI and proper spacing are keys to this process, as well as working with what nature has provided. Their Crawford County land was extremely well-managed over the years by the original owner and the Wehr’s have continued intensive management.

Nearby, Stan has transformed other forestland through timber stand improvement (TSI). Management tools such as TSI, vine control, improvement cuts, and post harvest TSI are used to improve forestlands. Harvests have concentrated on cull tree removal, thinning to improve species composition and stem quality, and mature tree harvest. They have been enrolled in TSI cost-sharing programs under EQIP, FLEP, and WHIP.

Aesthetics are very important as well as preserving special features such as caves openings, springs, cliffs and features in the barren and glade. Twenty-one rare or endangered plants in the barren have been identified. Controlled burns is one management tool recommended to help rejuvenate the native plants. Special sites are all over the properties and all are protected.

Wildlife Management

Since several family members hunt, game species are especially important. They have approximately forty acres set aside for wildlife habitat. Deer, turkey and squirrel are well-established. The emphasis has been to increase the rabbit population and attract quail. Food plots, strip disking, and prescribed burning are practices done to promote wildlife habitat. Ponds have also been built for fish and wildlife. During the last three years, they have participated in the Game Bird Habitat Development Program, which offsets many of these costs of enhancing wildlife habitat.

Education and Training

Over the years the brothers have attended numerous seminars and trainings. Many have been sponsored by the Indiana Forestry and Woodland Owners Association (IFWOA), the State of Indiana, or Purdue University. In 2010 the Wehr’s were one of four finalists for the coveted Charles Deam Award. Much of their education began with the Purdue eight-week course, “Forest Management for the Private Woodland Owner.” They work regularly with their district forester Mike Coggeshall who provides direction as needed.

Management Challenges and Successes

The Wehr’s #1 challenge for the next many years will be controlling invasive species. They feel their properties can be managed but if their neighbors do not join the fight, it may be a losing battle. Highway rights-of-way are of particular concern. This is where invasives seem to initially become established.

Over several years, Stan has done work to control tree of heaven, stilt grass, bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose.

Says Stan, “We believe the “Forester of Tomorrow” will be carrying a back pack sprayer instead of a chain saw.”