Forests in a Looking Glass

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

The Conservation Department and the University of Missouri are conducting a long-term study of the effects of timber cutting on Missouri forests. The Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project (MOFEP) began five years ago and will extend years into the future. It centers on over 9,000 acres of land in Shannon, Reynolds and Carter counties.

About one-third of the state of Missouri is covered with forests, some 14 million acres. These forests provide recreation in the form of hunting, hiking and camping, and they are important to the health of the streams that provide fishing. They also produce wood products, providing lumber, furniture and charcoal. The Conservation Department and the University want to know how cutting trees by different methods affects the health of the forest and the creatures, plants and soil nutrients that exist there.

Forests on the study lands will be treated three different ways. Some tracts will have no timber harvesting. Some will be lightly harvested every 10 years. A third group will have total harvesting in small, rotating stands. All of the components of a healthy forest will be studied in the presence of these timber cutting plans.

During the spring of 1991, 27 summer interns with maps and binoculars looked for birds and nests in the woods as part of the forest interior songbird study. The vegetation study began accumulating data on the types, sizes and condition of trees and determining what small plants were growing under the tree canopies. The reptile and amphibian study began in the fall by installing special traps to count toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes and turtles the following March.

As MOFEP matured, we realized that this was a unique opportunity to study how forest ecosystems respond to management. To make MOFEP even better, we recruited scientists and funding from other sources to broaden the study to other ecosystem components. Eighteen studies are active now on MOFEP.

To learn the effects of these practices on the forest and its inhabitants, we needed to measure the current condition of the forest to detect what changes occur. Many interesting questions will be answered after the actual tree harvesting takes place, but there is much to learn from the existing conditions before harvest.

On the vegetation study, we constructed 648 half-acre vegetation plots and measured more than 55,000 trees that were bigger than 4.5 inches in diameter and 70,000 smaller trees. Eight oak species make up 72 percent of the trees

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