Forests for the Long Run

Trees and forests will grow on their own, without any management. Nearly every acre of forest in our state was harvested between the late 1800s and the late 1920s, and much of the cut-over land subsequently was burned repeatedly and subjected to uncontrolled livestock grazing.

Yet we still have a lot of forest-about 14 million acres of it in Missouri. Private landowners own almost all that total. In the state, about 300,000 people own property with forest on it. Some landowners have thousands of acres, but the typical forest landowner has between 80 and 300 acres, and many people own 10 acres or less.

Of those landowners, only a few have any training or experience in managing forest land. Although their intentions are probably good, a drive across our state reveals many examples of forests being badly managed and, sadly, costing the landowners money in the long term.

Money? Sure. Careful and thoughtful management of forests results in more trees growing faster and straighter, creating more wood that is more valuable for private landowners.

Trees have more than economic value, of course. They are essential for converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and protecting the soil from erosion. Forests also provide crucial wildlife habitat, and they help make Missouri beautiful.

A forest can perform all these tasks as it appreciates in value-if it is managed well. Management is a pretty loaded word. During strikes, it's labor versus management, and managers usually are thought of as bosses. But the concept of forest management more closely resembles health care management. We need the expertise of doctors and nurses to help us maintain our well-being and to keep us healthy and vital in the future. Forest managers benefit timberland in the same way.

Right now, growing out there in your forest, is wood that eventually may become a railroad tie, the floor or molding in a home, a piece of furniture, or maybe even the paper you will use at work and school. The total economic value of your forest depends in large part on the care and attention you give to it.

Forests are slow-growing, and their value is long-term. We should have learned the importance of sustainability in our forests from the indiscriminate harvests of the last century. We don't want another episode of 40 to 60 years when we reap almost no economic value from timber in the state.

It's obvious that trees are worth most when they are at