Putting Down Roots

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Published on: Jun. 18, 2012

This year the L-A-D Foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary and the Department its 75th. This long-standing conservation partnership, which began more than 50 years ago in the Ozark forests, will continue to benefit Missourians for generations to come.

Pioneer Forest in the Missouri Ozarks

L-A-D’s founder, Leo Drey, is widely known for buying mostly worn-out forestland in the Ozarks in the 1950s. These lands became Pioneer Forest, and Leo eventually became the largest private landowner in the state. His Pioneer Forest now encompasses more than 141,000 acres along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. In 2004, Leo and his wife, Kay, conveyed Pioneer Forest to the L-A-D Foundation to ensure it will always be managed sustainably and will continue to be accessible for new generations of Missourians to enjoy.

Leo credits the early efforts of the Department for his initial success. “My objective was to get hold of this wild land and show it could be managed along conservation lines without going broke in the process, by selectively cutting individual trees instead of clear-cutting it,” Drey says. “It was all because of the way the Department began to get fires under control that you could afford to buy land, manage it for timber and let it grow to maturity.”

In the process of demonstrating how to restore forests on once cut-over Ozark land, Leo’s Pioneer Forest now provides dependable jobs for many families and more than a hundred individuals in several Ozark counties. The simplest way to describe Pioneer’s management is that every 20 years, trees are selected for removal. You cut the worst and leave the best from every age and product class.

“Known as single-tree selection, this method is both science and art,” says Pioneer Forest Manager Terry Cunningham. “Periodic field inventories guide the volume removed from the forest each year, point out certain forest health issues, and define the dynamics of age classes and overall forest structure. Removing individual trees creates canopy openings, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and allows for regeneration to occur.”

Using single-tree selection matches some natural processes, such as insects and disease, ice and windstorms and old age. It also achieves Pioneer Forest’s social objectives of economic sustainability, recreation, wildlife and aesthetics. After 60 years of forest management, Pioneer Forest’s method has worked very well. “Because cutting on Pioneer Forest leaves behind more trees of all sizes than are cut, the result

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