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 is every acre is forested before and also after a harvest,” says Cunningham. To illustrate that point, he recalls a third-generation local timber harvester saying, “I remember being here when my grandfather was cutting trees, then 20 years later when my father was cutting trees, and today I’m cutting the trees from this very same hillside.”

As Pioneer Forest’s wood products go through various value-adding steps to produce oak flooring, railroad ties and blocking for shipping, their positive effects reach many more families throughout Missouri.

“The L-A-D Foundation has provided a great legacy, and serves as an example of how to manage a forest,” says MDC Director Robert L. Ziehmer. “The L-A-D Foundation is committed to sustainable forest management, research and education. The Foundation is a leader in single-tree selection uneven-aged management. The Foundation is also a leader in natural resource management research, including the Continuous Forest Inventory plots on the Pioneer Forest, which they have monitored every five years since 1952.”

The Foundation and the Department continue working together to evaluate management on Pioneer Forest, and to train and recognize outstanding loggers in Missouri.

“Pioneer Forest serves as a Missouri role model of sustainable forest management on privately owned land,” says Lisa Allen, MDC state forester. “The Foundation foresters have been fantastic advocates for promoting and using loggers who have been trained through the Missouri Forest Products Association’s Professional Timber Harvester training and certified through the Master Logger Program to ensure best management practices for harvesting timber are used for all Pioneer Forest lands. Because loggers are held to a high standard while working in Pioneer Forest, they learn best management practices that they then take to other privately owned woodlands.”

Natural Areas in Eastern Missouri

Early on, the L-A-D Foundation helped fund the inventories of many sites of natural or geological importance in the state. In several cases, Drey acquired these important areas and placed them in the care of L-A-D, which then leased most of them to MDC for day-to-day management. One such area was Clifty Creek Natural Area in Maries County. In 1971 it was among the first designated State Natural Areas. Subsequently, MDC acquired adjoining acreage. By working together, this beautiful place has now been conserved for all Missourians to enjoy. An award winning trail was dedicated there two years ago.

“Missouri’s natural areas program owes much to the pioneering work of Leo Drey and the L-A-D Foundation,” says Mike Leahy, MDC natural areas coordinator. “Since the early 1970s, the Foundation has been a key partner with the Department, as well as with Missouri State Parks, the Mark Twain National Forest, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and The Nature Conservancy, in protecting the state’s natural heritage. From Greer Spring and Grand Gulf to Hickory Canyons, the L-A-D Foundation has helped protect some of the best natural features in the state.”

In all, the L-A-D Foundation leases seven Missouri Natural Areas to MDC, totaling more than 2,000 acres. Four additional Missouri Natural Areas are located on L-A-D’s Pioneer Forest. One of these, Current River Natural Area, was also the first Missouri area to be recognized by the Society of American Foresters Natural Areas program back in 1955, pre-dating the Missouri Natural Areas Program. It is remarkable for its stand of large white oak trees, some more than 400 years old.

Two of L-A-D’s Missouri Natural Areas pay special tribute to highly respected Conservation Department staff. Charles Callison, editor of the Missouri Conservationist in the 1940s, and later a well-known national leader with the Audubon Society, is remembered at Rocky Hollow Natural Area in Monroe County where he grew up. Allen Brohn, an assistant director of the Conservation Department during the 1970s and 1980s, is remembered at Hickory Canyons Natural Area, which he helped establish while serving as chairman of the Missouri Natural Areas Committee.

A Legacy of Greater Good

Most L-A-D Foundation land is within the Current River Conservation Opportunity Area, a geographic region rich in native plants and animals and their habitats. But L-A-D staff also works with the Department wherever they can to protect less common plants and animals in caves and on glades, fens and in sinkholes. For example, in Perry County, Department staff has begun long-term work on Foundation land to restore a sample of grassy woodland on the Perry County Karst Plain, which will better protect groundwater resources associated with Ball Mill Resurgence Natural Area and Blue Spring Branch. This karst plain has more and longer caves than anywhere else in Missouri. It is an especially important effort because there is relatively little public land in this area. This work is already being used as a demonstration site for teachers and landowners.

As long as 40 years ago, Drey suggested that Pioneer Forest land could be considered as habitat for large native mammals. Today, that expansive area has become part of the range of the elk reintroduced to Missouri after being gone for 150 years. If you talk with L-A-D’s staff, they will tell you that black bears never left Pioneer Forest.

The conservation partnership between MDC and the L-A-D Foundation has been long and productive, and Missourians can look forward to additional success stories for Missouri forests, woodlands and rivers in the years ahead. For more information on the L-A-D Foundation, visit ladfoundation.org. Learn more about Missouri’s natural areas program at mdc.mo.gov/node/2453.

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