Herb Overstreet spread the message throughout southwestern Missouri by sponsoring a streamside planting on Jordan Creek. Cal Royall and the Fayette Rotary Club surveyed trees at nine sites throughout the city. And when Joplin fourth-grader Logan Skelley is not climbing trees, he is closely watching them for potential gypsy moth infestation.
All across Missouri, everyday citizens are turning a critical and caring eye to the state's forests. Rural and urban, young and younger, they are members of the Missouri Forestkeepers Network, and they are taking a hands-on approach to caring for natural resources.
Launched in July 1996, the Missouri Forestkeepers Network is a forest health monitoring program with a two-fold mission: to educate Missourians about the care and management of Missouri's trees and forests and to enlist volunteer support in monitoring forest health. The program was developed and is administered by the Conservation Department and the nonprofit Forest ReLeaf of Missouri.
"Forestkeepers are filling a key role in helping keep our woodlands healthy," says State Forester Marvin Brown. "Their spirit and drive are part of a big job that really can't be accomplished by a single agency or individual."
Enrollment in Forestkeepers is by application and is open to Missourians of all ages and interests. As in its highly successful sister program, Missouri Stream Team, participation in Forestkeepers is determined by the needs, interests and drive of each applicant.
Members receive a free starter kit with tools and techniques to help them assess the health of trees based on the condition of the crown, branches, foliage and trunk. The kit includes a field manual and stickers to create a Biltmore Stick, a forester's yardstick that measures the diameter of tree trunks at breast height. The tools are equally applicable for rural and urban sites.
The program offers a range of activities. In addition to monitoring trees on plots selected by the members, Forestkeepers attend optional training classes on use of the inventory kit or proper planting techniques. Members receive "The Monitor," a quarterly newsletter, and monthly Forest Health Updates that alert them to the presence of particular tree pests. At present, program facilitators are developing the framework for a comprehensive training program, the Forestkeepers Academy, which should be fully implemented in two years.
The early success of the program clearly shows the tremendous volunteer and stewardship ethic of Missouri's citizens. In its debut enrollment year, more than 730 people signed up to assess trees on an annual basis.