Whisper the word forest, and what comes to mind? A grove of mighty oaks? The scent of pine on a frosty morning? Warren County landowners Barry and Bruce Paschall might say it’s the memory of the ruffed grouse’s drumming in a place their family called “the hole.”
“It was probably the ’80s the last time we heard it,” Barry says. The Paschall brothers are working with Daniel Boone Conservation Area (CA) managers Jeff Bakameyer and Lafe Schweissguth to bring the grouse’s spring mating ritual back to this Missouri River Hills area, which is a mix of oak-hickory forest and woodland. They are just one of the many local conservation partnerships working to make sure future Missourians have plenty of chances to enjoy and wisely use our state’s diverse forests and woodlands — and the plants, fish, and wildlife that depend on them.
Bringing Back the Grouse’s Drumming
Years ago, Barry and Bruce’s grandfather sold a parcel of the family’s original forest to the Department. That sale increased the Daniel Boone CA’s size and habitat value. Barry and Bruce inherited the remaining acres, and they manage their adjoining parcels together.
For the last five years, the brothers have been working with Bakameyer and Schweissguth to improve the family’s wooded acres.
“MDC kept asking me for permission to cross my land,” Barry says. “That’s how I got interested in doing my own timber stand improvement and temporary forest opening cuts.”
Following the same treatments Bakameyer and Schweissguth are applying to the adjoining conservation area, they are selectively cutting diseased, damaged, poor quality, or otherwise overcrowded and over-mature trees to open up the dense canopy. This allows light to the forest floor so young trees, shrubs, and wildflowers can grow and provide the cover many kinds of wildlife require or benefit from. Ruffed grouse, in particular, need this type of renewed forest cover to nest, escape predators, and raise their young.
“Grouse prefer young forests,” Bakameyer said. “Ones with 5- to 15-year-old trees are perfect.”
Young forest habitat provides adequate canopy to shield grouse from hawks and other birds of prey. But this kind of habitat is declining and has been for quite some time.
Declining can mean overgrowth of mature trees, creating the kind of closed canopy associated with undisturbed forests. The Paschalls recently took a piece of land and created a temporary forest opening. The resulting scene — mostly stumps, weeds, open sky, and a few remaining trees — would challenge most viewers’ expectation of what a forest should look like.
“The first year after this type of treatment can look kind of rough,” Bakameyer admits. “You see stumps and a burst of weedy growth, along with small trees, shrubs, and other woody species that are just starting their life.” Compare that scene to a parcel that has had a year to regrow. The low undergrowth of wildflowers and vines is fairly thick in places, and a scattering of woodland shrubs rises above it. Higher still is an open canopy of trees that admits broad channels of light. The scene looks healthy and vibrant.
It looks even better to some types of wildlife, which depend on periodic disturbance like tree harvesting and controlled burning to maintain the habitat they need. “Think of it as home renovation,” Bakameyer said. “A few months of uncomfortable remodeling can improve your living space for years to come. It can do the same thing for wildlife.”
Have the grouse returned to their renovated home? Not yet. But the Paschalls and their conservation area allies are still working, watching, and listening for their arrival.
Forest and Woodland Habitat Systems
Forests and woodlands can occur together, but they are different. Forests occur on higher quality sites and form a closed canopy, often comprised of several overlapping layers. The midstory and understory contain a variety of shade-tolerant shrubs and a sparse layer of soft-stemmed plants. Woodlands are located on poorer sites for growing trees and have a more open canopy, and their sparse woody midstory allows more sunlight to penetrate to the ground. This in turn produces a dense ground cover containing a variety of wildflowers, grasses, and sedges. Periodic disturbance, such as fire and mechanical thinning of trees, plays a large role in the restoration and maintenance of woodland habitat systems.
In both forests and woodlands, highly variable factors such as soil, temperature, topography, slope, and availability of moisture give rise to a wide range of plant communities. This diversity of plant types and structures provides abundant nesting, cover, and foraging sites to meet the needs of many kinds of wildlife. Generalist species like the black bear, sharp-shinned hawk, and Diana fritillary butterfly can be found throughout the matrix of forest and woodland systems. Other species, such as the Indiana bat, Ozark zigzag salamander, and Swainson’s warbler have very particular nesting or foraging requirements, only offered by specific forest or woodland elements. Healthy forests and woodlands retain soil, absorb nutrients, slow runoff, and allow for water infiltration, so many of Missouri’s fish and other aquatic species are dependent upon forests and woodlands as well.
Generally speaking, Missouri has seven different kinds of forests and woodlands, each with its own plant and animal communities.
Restoring Spring Creek Watershed’s Glaciated Woodlands
The state’s best example of prairie-savanna-woodland habitat is the Spring Creek Watershed, located in Adair, Putnam, and Sullivan counties. As the name suggests, a prairie-savanna-woodland habitat complex features native grasslands mixed with swaths of open oak-hickory canopies and a scattering of native shrubs and wildflowers underneath. At 8,262 acres, Union Ridge CA forms the core of the watershed’s woodland habitat.
Mark Williams owns 830 acres that lie near Union Ridge CA in Sullivan County. He explains how prairie, savanna, and woodlands can decline, especially on private land. “Like many forest owners, I thought as long as the forest stays the way it is, it’s good. But I had so much brush, and all my trees were even-aged. I watched my turkey and deer populations drop — I didn’t have a good mix of habitat.”
Then Williams got to work with Private Land Conservationist John Murphy and has been continuously improving his timber stand with selective thinning and prescribed fire.
“I’ve been doing the whole thing,” Williams says. “Fencing out the cattle. Hand-spraying noxious weeds. Now the turkey hunting is phenomenal — as good as it was in the ’90s.”
Williams is excited about restoring his savanna and woodlands, and he works with Murphy to conduct habitat management workshops for other landowners on his property. “I will continue this work as along as I live,” he said.
Murphy said this geography has some of the “most widely spread and rich habitats I have ever seen.” He said that often these quality habitats are degraded from invasive species, woody plant overcrowding, or lack of disturbance.
Other conservation partners working within the Spring Creek Watershed Priority Geography include, but are not limited to, many additional private landowners, the Farm Service Agency, Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Prairie Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Quail Forever, Soil and Water Conservation District (Adair, Putnam, and Su
llivan counties), Truman State University, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fencing to Improve Woodland Wildlife Habitat
Father-and-son duo Gene and Andrew Kinslow run a cow-calf beef operation on their adjoining properties in Webster County. An avid birder since boyhood, the younger Kinslow started surveying songbirds on their property’s oak-hickory woodlands in 1994. In 2005, the Kinslows worked with Private Land Conservationist Matt Curry to build a fence to exclude livestock from 200 acres of woodland. Their goal was to improve habitat for songbirds and other wildlife.
“The big change I see is in the ground and understory layers,” Andrew Kinslow said. “In the past, you could kneel down and basically see all the way through the woodlands due to the browse line. This has filled in surprisingly fast and is prime habitat for fledgling feeding and shelter.”
His survey results prove it. On-farm banding efforts rarely caught the ground-nesting Kentucky warbler before 2005. Since the Kinslows began fencing the woodlands, clearing glades, and planting native warm-season grasses, they have seen yearly increases in Kentucky warbler numbers, and now it is one of the top five captures at the farm’s banding station. Other regularly returning migratory warbler species that breed in the improved habitat include worm-eating warbler, black-and-white warbler, ovenbird, white-eyed vireo, Acadian flycatcher, wood thrush, and Louisiana water thrush.
Curry says that some managers debate whether a fence should be considered a wildlife habitat project, and he adds that the Kinslows have done a limited amount of true habitat manipulation. “But the excluded area on their land has evolved into high quality wildlife habitat,” he said.
All around the Show-Me State, landowners like Barry and Bruce Paschall, Mark Williams, and Gene and Andrew Kinslow are hard at work with their natural resource management agency and nonprofit partners to make sure Missouri forest and woodland communities survive and thrive for future generations.
What We’re Doing
Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project (MOFEP)
This multi-agency project is one of the most comprehensive ecological investigations of forest response undertaken in upland oak ecosystems. Initiated in 1991 and slated to run at least 100 years, the project has already yielded valuable data on forest management. A long-term, top-to-bottom study of the Ozark forest resource, MOFEP provides the foundation to decide the best ways to satisfy demands for wood products while ensuring the survival of healthy forest ecosystems. Learn more at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZZV.
Partners Protecting Forest Health
The Missouri Invasive Forest Pest Council coordinates responses to invasive forest insect and disease pests. Using limited-impact tools such as early detection, monitoring, and outreach, they encourage managers to recognize and interrupt invasive pest threats before they can damage forest health and economics.
Forest and Woodland Management Plans
To ensure that forested land conservation doesn’t stop at the borders of public lands, the Missouri Department of Conservation and its conservation partners build relationships with private landowners. Through these relationships, experienced foresters write management plans and provide assistance to landowners in completing on-the-ground activities.
Explore and Learn More
Visit conservation areas with forests and woodlands near you or around the state. Find listings and directions at mdc.mo.gov/atlas. Learn more about forest and woodland habitat and the plants and animals that call them home at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZJc.
What You Can Do
Manage Your Wooded Acres For Diversity and Profit
If you don’t already have a long-term forest management plan, call your Missouri Department of Conservation regional office (find the number on Page 3). Staff can put you in touch with your county’s consulting forester and help you get started.
Become a Forestkeeper
The Missouri Forestkeepers Network is a volunteer-based forest health monitoring program. Learn more at forestkeepers.org/about-forestkeepers.
Forests and Woodlands
A Treasure Chest of Ecological, Economic, and Social Wealth
Wooded lands currently make up just over one-third of Missouri’s area. Totaling 15.5 million acres, it’s not hard to see why they are among our state’s most valuable resources. Essential to our quality of life, large tracts of forest and woodland provide clean air and water, and they are home to some of our state’s rarest and most iconic plants and animals. Additionally, the forest products industry provides jobs to thousands of Missourians and contributes billions of dollars to our economy every year.
Plants and Animals of Greatest Conservation Need
- Timber rattlesnake
- Nutall oak
- Water Oak
- Rose turtlehead
- Prothonotary warbler
- Ozark wake robin
- Pickerel frog
- Black bear