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Sustaining Missouri’s Forests

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Private landowners have a big responsibility in the care of our natural resources. They own 93 percent of all land and 85 percent of the forest land in Missouri.

Western Civilization got its start in Mesopotamia, the "Fertile Crescent" of present day Iraq. History records that during periods of rapid population growth in those ancient lands, the value of wood was equal to the value of precious gems, stones and metals. The need for wood and other riches may have prompted Mesopotamia to conquer neighboring states.

To fuel their needs, the people of that time also cut excessive amounts of timber along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The increased erosion, siltation and salinity resulting from the denuded banks lowered the productivity of the land of these important rivers. Important crops failed, including barley, the staple of the empire. Facing starvation, great cities fell. By 2000 B.C., the last Mesopotamian empire had collapsed.

The late Bronze Age saw a great surge in the population and economic strength of Mycenaean Greece. In the thirteenth century B.C., citizens cleared large tracts of forests to accommodate the needs of a rapidly growing society. They used the wood for construction and to fire bronze furnaces. Livestock grazing the harvested land hampered natural regeneration of the forest. We can directly link the decline of ancient Greek civilization to deforestation and soil depletion.

The same pattern has repeated itself throughout history all over the world. Growing populations, excessive consumption, the use of wood for energy to process nonrenewable resources, deforestation, soil erosion and resulting famines have led to economic and social collapse. When societies fail to live sustainably they come crashing down, even the greatest ones.

Forests play a leading role in sustaining human populations and providing a good quality of life, a lesson we can learn from the ancient Mesopotamians and Greeks. Forests give us food, fuel, shelter, soil protection and clean air and water - all essentials for life. Using the products of forests in a sustainable matter has always been a challenge for civilizations, including ours.

Sustainable forestry is a modern concept and several definitions for it that are evolving. Some are quite lengthy, but one of the most succinct is, "The practice of managing dynamic forest ecosystems to provide ecological, economic, social and cultural benefits for present and future generations." It’s important to note that sustainable forestry includes humans in the equation and provides for the wise use of forest

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