Healthy Forests for Generations
This year, MDC celebrates the 75th anniversary of putting the state’s citizen-led conservation efforts into action. In this issue, we highlight successful efforts to restore and conserve Missouri’s forests. This is the story of how Missourians have worked together to improve our forests to benefit wildlife and people, for generations to come.
Easter Sunday, 1941, was a day the fate of Missouri’s forests seemed to glow red hot. Smoke hung heavy in the air. Much of the Ozarks was ablaze. Yet Missourians were determined to forge an entirely different fate for the forests of the state.
Since that Easter Sunday, generations of Missourians have worked with backfires, shovels and education to curb the tradition of burning forestland. Missourians have restored healthy forests and created a sustainable timber industry that embraces wise use of Missouri’s forests.
Today, millions of acres of healthy forests once again blanket more than a third of our state. And in just the past 20 years, Missouri has actually gained 1.4 million acres of forest.
From Abundance to Ashes
In the 1800s, forests covered 70 percent of the state. Explorers wrote of the dark swamps of the Bootheel, the park-like pine forests of the Ozarks, the balds of southwest Missouri and the mix of prairie and forest in northern and western Missouri. Early settlers found a landscape rich with the essentials of frontier life—wood, water and wildlife.
Then, things began to change. By the late 1800s, lumber mills sprang up to feed a country hungry for wood products. Western trains ran on Ozark pine—3,500 ties per mile. In 1912 alone, 15 million railroad ties headed west, and Ozark lumber shipped east to build a growing nation.
Within a short timespan, the boom of Ozark timber went bust. The rolling Ozark hills that had afforded early settlers with all of their basic needs could no longer provide for people or wildlife. By the 1930s, only about 2,000 deer were thought to exist in the state. Turkeys declined to a few thousand birds in scattered flocks. For all practical purposes, bear and ruffed grouse were gone, and most other species were in dire straits.
MDC’s Roots in Forestry Run Deep
In November 1936, Missourians came together to pass a state constitutional amendment to create an apolitical Conservation Commission to restore and conserve Missouri’s fish, wildlife and forests. This was a progressive concept for its time.
“Their foresight is one thing that makes Missouri’s conservation model so unique,” says John Tuttle,