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Missouri's Forestkeepers

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

suffered tornado damage and a mesic area near a stream. This year, students will repeat the visit. "We'll analyze the results and draw some conclusions and comparisons with last year to see changes from year to year," Unger says.

Forestkeepers submitted the first returns of tree observation data in fall 1997. An analysis of the information painted an overall picture of forest health, with 77 percent of the trees rated as healthy. That picture was largely repeated when data were returned in 1998.

In the second year of Forestkeeper data collection, 88 members shared inventory data taken from 102 sites. In the process, they measured 3,640 trees. Most trees measured 6 to 14 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) and were growing vigorously. Of all trees measured, 35 percent were oaks. Elms, maples, pines and hickories each accounted for 6 to 7 percent of the trees assessed. The largest tree measured was a 66 inch dbh northern red oak measured by a school group in St. Louis.

Even though 85 percent of Missouri's forest lands are privately owned, only 53 percent of the sites being monitored by Forestkeepers are under private ownership. This figure indicates a high level of concern among Forestkeepers for our public trees. Twelve sites monitored in 1998 were state or federally owned, nine were schools and 21 were community parks or public rights-of-way.

Because of their high interest in trees on public sites, Forestkeepers can provide assistance to land managers by alerting them to immediate management needs. On the nine school sites inventoried in 1998, for example, school groups measured a large number of trees (693 total), so a fairly good estimation of the populations on each site could be determined. Of those trees, 30 percent across all species were dead or dying.

While tree wounds and hollows and standing dead trees are an important component of any healthy forest because they provide food and shelter to many varieties of wildlife, they can also present a serious danger to people and their belongings. If the dead or damaged trees are located away from playgrounds and trails, they may provide a valuable learning experience to the students. However, if these trees are near high-use areas, they can threaten our most valuable resource-our children-and should be dealt with immediately.

Land managers often are short-staffed and may find it difficult to inspect every tree under their charge on a regular basis. Caring volunteers can provide the needed information on which managers can base informed decisions. In some cases, volunteers can even lend a hand to get needed field work done, like tree planting and the extra care needed to get young trees established.

The largest number of sites monitored in 1998 were on private lands, where public officials have the least amount of information about the health of the forests, a fact that hints at one of the chief values of the program. Forestkeepers serve as eyes and ears on the forest. They also can serve as an early warning system to alert us about the presence of tree pests, such as gypsy moths.

The 1998 data may demonstrate just such a pest occurrence among pine and elm. More than one-third of the pine on rural sites and a third of the elm on urban sites were recorded as dead or dying. Because this trend was not seen in the 1997 data, it may represent the difference between the sites selected or it may represent a new development.

The incidence of reports of sick pine and elm coming into the diagnostic lab has been relatively high over the last several years. The most common problems reported were root rots and wilt diseases. While the impact of these problems across the entire resource is relatively small, it may affect the species composition of our future forests. Only time and repeat inventories will tell.

In the meantime, volunteers continue to swell the ranks of Forestkeepers, a trend that program coordinators believe will continue. Coordinator Mary Sherfy, executive director of Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, stresses, "The Forestkeepers program provides the perfect opportunity for volunteers who want to take meaningful action to care for Missouri's natural resources. They've already shown a tremendous interest, and the growth potential of this program is unlimited."

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