We all play a role in shaping the future of Missouri’s forests. Just as trees and the habitats they live in contribute in many ways to our quality of life, the actions we take in our everyday lives impact our forests.
Our connections to the forest are often not direct or obvious, but they are significant. They include the choices we make as consumers, the way we teach and raise our children, whether or not we recycle and the manner in which we manage our property, whether a small yard or large acreage.
We can improve our forests more dramatically by performing actions that directly benefit them. Following, you’ll find a number of ways that people can impact our forests. What may be the most important suggestion, however, is for people to get out in the forest and get acquainted with it. It’s a simple fact that we prize and protect what we use and enjoy.
Enjoy Missouri’s Forests
Recreation in the forest helps restore our connection, appreciation and understanding of the natural world. Natural, wholesome recreation also helps to cement family ties, so be sure to include your kids.
Missouri offers many opportunities to get out into our trees and forests. Trails wind through Missouri woodlands. Some of the trails are challenging, some are easy. They are available for a variety of uses, including hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as walking.
The less adventurous may prefer taking drives through forested areas to see trees flowering in spring or to observe fall colors. Or, you might visit your local park for a family picnic.
Missouri’s rivers are another pathway into forests. Floating, fishing or just visiting a gravel bar to read for a few hours in a lawn chair or to wade in the water are great ways to enjoy the quiet beauty of the woods. The woods also offer tremendous opportunities for camping, hunting, wildlife watching, berry picking and much more.
Use Missouri Forest Products
Conservation-minded consumers try to follow the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible. However, the consumption of forest products harvested sustainably also helps support healthy forests and wildlife habitat. In fact, forest products are often much more environmentally friendly than alternative products.
For instance, it is more sustainable to install oak hardwood flooring grown in the Ozarks than to install a bamboo floor that had to be shipped all the way from Asia, or a vinyl floor, which is neither renewable nor biodegradable. As a bonus, using homegrown materials keeps the economic benefits of your purchase in Missouri.
How do you know if forest products are being harvested sustainably? This gets a little tricky. Some forest products now include green certification stamps of sustainability through the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
While these programs do a good job of recognizing sustainably managed forests and forest products, there is currently very little enrolled acreage in Missouri. This does not mean that Missouri’s forests are not managed well. Rather, the lack of enrollment reflects the fact that certification is expensive.
Given that Missouri’s forests are currently growing about three times as much volume as is being harvested each year provides some indication of our sustainability. As the cost of certification is reduced or the benefits increase, more forest acreage in Missouri will likely become “green certified.” In the meantime, we suggest buying Missouri-grown forest products when possible, and green-certified Missouri forest products as they become available.
In all consumer decisions, the conservation-minded should consume the resources they need but avoid being wasteful.
Manage Forestland Responsibly
Because the vast majority of Missouri’s forestland is privately owned, landowners have an especially important role to play in sustaining our forests. Managing your woods for maximum long-term benefits, such as for wildlife, recreation or timber, often requires proactive management.
Private landowners can benefit greatly by contacting a Conservation Department forester or private forestry consultant to learn more about their forestland and the opportunities it may present.
Although forest management includes much more than just harvesting, the advice of a professional forester is especially important if you are considering conducting a timber harvest. In fact, the Conservation Department recently launched a new voluntary “Call Before You Cut” campaign to help provide information to landowners who are considering a timber harvest. More information can be obtained at callb4ucut.com or 877-564-7483. Trained foresters can help you decide if your forest is ready for a harvest and make sure that such management activities maintain or enhance the health, productivity and wildlife value of your forest.
By also using a Master Logger™ or logger who has attended the Missouri Forest Product Association’s Professional Timber Harvester Training, you can further ensure that your logger will use best management practices to protect soil and water resources.
The Missouri Heritage Woods Program and the Missouri Tree Farm Program recognize landowners for good work and provide educational resources to keep landowners abreast of current threats and opportunities facing private forests.
The newly established Forest and Woodlands Association of Missouri (FWAM) is a body of people interested in promoting forestry in the state of Missouri and is made up of woodland owners, tree farmers and other people interested in rural or urban forestry issues. Anyone can join FWAM. The goals of FWAM are to promote and advocate for sustainable forest management, keep FWAM members updated on forestry information and related legislative actions, and to serve as an educational resource for children.
Leave a Conservation Legacy
In order to ensure that the woods you have worked so hard to maintain will remain an important natural asset into the future, consider donating a conservation easement to a land trust. Conservation easements allow landowners to keep their land and generally manage it as they see fit. However, easements typically include legal restrictions on developing and subdividing the property, and often include provisions for managing forests sustainably.
In many cases, these are restrictions that landowners already place on themselves. However, the easement provides them peace of mind for the future of the land, and it often allows landowners significant tax benefits as well. To find a local land trust, contact your regional Conservation Department office (Page 3).
Plant Trees and Plant Them Correctly
Simply planting a tree in your yard can make an important contribution to forest sustainability. Take the time to pick a tree that is well-suited to the site, make sure that it is planted correctly and maintain the tree into the future.
Planting and maintaining a tree is a good way to get your kids involved and interested in the outdoors. It also helps instill in them a conservation ethic. For more information on choosing a tree and learning how to care for it, contact your local nursery, arborist or forester.
Don’t Import Forest Pests
Some of the biggest threats facing our forests are exotic plants, animals and diseases. Avoid planting invasive plants, such as bush honeysuckle or autumn olive, in your yard or property. If you already have these plants, eliminate them if possible. They can quickly spread far beyond your boundaries and diminish forest health and ecological value across the landscape.
Also be aware of and avoid introducing invasive insects and diseases. Exotic insect pests pose a great threat to Missouri’s trees and forests. One of the primary ways that some forest insect pests spread is through the transportation of firewood. In fact, there is currently great concern that the movement of firewood could spread emerald ash borer to the point that we won’t have any ash trees in the future. There is nothing wrong with using firewood. However, we strongly encourage people to obtain it locally where you plan to use it.
Consider a Career as a Forester
If you’re looking for a future career path, consider a career in forestry. Forestry is exciting, enjoyable and rewarding. Foresters work with private landowners, cities and communities. They manage lands to ensure that forest resources remain healthy, productive and wildlife friendly and provide the myriad of benefits we have come to expect from them. Foresters also engage in demanding physical work, such as fighting fires and conducting forest inventories.
To many people, forestry careers provide the perfect combination of outside work and technically demanding labor. Currently, foresters are needed in both the public A family plants spruce in their backyard. Planting trees can make important contributions to forest sustainability. and private sectors. Requirements typically include a four-year college degree in forestry.
Volunteer Your Labor and Expertise
The need for volunteers for conserving and sustaining Missouri’s forests is huge, and opportunities are incredibly diverse. Here are a few examples of opportunities:
- Fire departments are often trying to recruit volunteers to help with wildfire suppression efforts.
- You can join a Master Naturalist chapter to obtain valuable conservation training, and use this knowledge to assist with various conservation projects.
- You can volunteer for your local city tree board to help ensure that trees are an important consideration in your city.
- Your local Audubon chapter, the Conservation Federation of Missouri, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ozark Regional Land Trust or The Nature Conservancy offer a number of volunteer opportunities. There are comparable organizations to suit almost any interest. For example, you can join the Native Plant Society, the Show-Me Missouri Back Country Horseman or the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists.
A little Internet research or some social networking among people who share your interests is likely to reveal an organization that suits you and provides you with the opportunity to make a difference in Missouri’s forests.
Although we all want our forest resources to be sustainable, it is not always clear what sustainable means. The Seven Criteria of Forest Sustainability, established through an international process in 1993, serves as one of the best and most prominent definitions of forest sustainability to this day:
- Conserve forest diversity
- Maintain forest productivity
- Maintain forest health and vitality
- Conserve and maintain soil and water resources
- Maintain forests contributions to global carbon cycles
- Maintain and enhance the socioeconomic benefits to meet the needs of communities
- Provide legal, institutional and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management.
No person, business, agency or organization can single-handedly ensure a sustainable future for Missouri’s trees and forests. In fact, one of the primary motivations for establishing Missouri’s Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy was the acknowledgment that the Conservation Department cannot by itself secure the future of our forests. It is critical for us to recruit help from numerous partners and all Missouri citizens.
To learn more about Missouri’s Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy and find out how you can get involved, visit www.MissouriConservation.org/n2857 or contact your regional Conservation Department office (see Page 3).