Forest in a Looking Glass

The Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project (MOFEP) is a landscape-level study of forest management practices and their impacts on plants and animals. Comprising three different treatments (even-aged management, uneven-aged management and control, or no cutting), this project emphasizes learning while managing and is one of the largest integrated studies of its kind in the country. Ten years into its planned 100-year life, the project is already discovering species new to science, relationships only guessed at before, and information and techniques of interest to land managers both within and outside the Department of Conservation.

MOFEP is actually a collaboration of more than 25 studies conducted by many different scientists. This large, diverse project evolved out of one question: What effects would forest management have upon bird communities? With the fragmentation of forests in central Missouri, southern Illinois and elsewhere across America, birds that relied on large, intact forests were being replaced with species that used pasture land, crop fields and forest edge. MOFEP's unique use of a true management experiment is providing valuable answers to this and many other questions.

In 1988, Conservation Department and University of Missouri scientists became interested in examining the effects of forest management on songbirds in the Missouri Ozarks. Discussions about the effects of fragmentation upon the mix and numbers of songbird species generated interest in expanding the proposal to include the entire ecosystem in the study. As MOFEP grew in scope, the planners added studies to complement the bird work, including fundamental productivity of the forest, vegetation composition and the dynamics of other animal communities. The MOFEP study sites, located in Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties in the southeast Missouri Ozarks range from 776 acres to 1,275 acres. Each of the nine experimental sites received one of the treatments; there are three even aged sites, three uneven-aged sites and three non-treated sites.

Timber harvests, whether even-aged (clearcut and thinning) or uneven-aged (selection cuts) are spread across the landscape so that roughly 10 to 15 percent of a study site is cut every 15 years. Each study site is divided into many smaller units, called stands, for inventory and management. All of the trees in an even-aged forest stand are roughly the same age. An uneven aged forest stand contains at least three age-classes. Control, or non treated, sites receive no cutting on any part of the compartments. The age of trees is not always easy to