Forces of Change
Missouri’s forest resources are entering some of the most interesting and dynamic times we have ever known. Seldom have our forests faced so much threat, yet simultaneously posed so much opportunity to alleviate social and environmental challenges.
Conversion, Fragmentation and Parcelization
Eighty-two percent of Missouri’s forestland is privately owned. This means that the future sustainability of Missouri’s forests rests largely in the hands of private landowners. It also means that social, demographic and economic forces translate into major changes in the way those lands are managed and used.
In the coming decades, there will be a significant changing of the guard for Missouri’s private forests. According to a 2006 survey conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, 17 percent of Missouri’s family forestland is owned by people 75 years of age or older, and nearly 70 percent is owned by people 55 years or older. As these forests are passed on to heirs or sold to new owners, they often become more vulnerable to the threats of conversion, fragmentation and parcelization.
Currently, Missouri’s net forest acreage is increasing. However, conversion to pasture, cropland or urban development is still a major concern in Missouri. We are losing many acres of high-benefit forest while gaining forests that produce fewer benefits, such as abandoned pastures reverting into honey locust thickets. These provide little wildlife habitat or forest product potential.
One of the side effects of forest conversion is fragmentation. Forest fragmentation refers to the breaking up of larger forest blocks into smaller, disconnected patches with a greater abundance of open land scattered throughout. Fragmentation negatively impacts many wildlife species that require large blocks of continuous forest. This can make forests more vulnerable to insect and disease outbreaks, invasive exotic plants and domestic animals that can harass native wildlife or alter their habitat.
Landowners are also subdividing their properties into smaller tracts. Given today’s economic hardships, these temptations become especially great. A common practice among older landowners is to divide their property into multiple tracts of equal acreage to pass along to each of their children. This can only happen so many times before tract sizes get so small that management options become significantly limited.
A landowner who needs to sell 80 acres of woods, for example, is likely to make much more money by breaking the land up into eight 10-acre lots and selling them as home sites, instead of selling the 80 acres intact. Through this parcelization, significant forest acreage can