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Farm and Forest History of Forestry



A History of Forestry in the Ozarks 

Missouri's forests are one of the state's most important assets. Ranked seventh in the 20 forested states of the Northeastern U. S., nearly one-third of the state is forest covered, much of it in the southern Missouri Ozarks. The forest cover makes for a healthy ecosystem as well as a healthy economy, protecting hillsides from erosion while adding to the area's recreation and tourism base, and providing a diverse resource of plants, animals and other denizens of the natural world. As beautiful and vast as Missouri's forests are, they were once much bigger and held far more resources, both plant and animal. Between then and now, the vast timberlands of the Ozarks warmed hearths, made shelters, built cities, and were, at one time, almost destroyed. 


Early Settlers
Virgin Pine ForestTo the earliest European pioneers arriving here at the beginning of the 19th century, the Ozarks must have looked like a treasure house. With its vast forests of giant old growth pine and oak, there was the raw stuff of industrial development. Rivers, then roads, then railroads were utilized to ship out the lumber to eastern markets.

The first Europeans to tour the territory that would become Missouri found a rich land with few human inhabitants, vast herds of elk and buffalo, and a forest that covered 70 percent of the area. Settlers arrived by the rivers, and cut wood for houses, fuel, and to sell. Timber was cut and floated downstream to mills in larger settlements, where it might be used for lumber or as cordwood to fuel the boilers of steam-powered riverboats. 

Building, and Rebuilding, a Nation
The Civil War disrupted the Ozarks economy and industrial base, and the forests grew untouched as neighbor battled neighbor over the nation's future. When the war ended, what was destroyed had to be rebuilt, and the booming economy needed room to grow. It also had to be housed.

Harvesting the Forest
Harvesting LogsMissouri's vast pine forests had not previously been harvested because of their remote and rugged location. But in 1887 lumbermen arrived, bought vast acreages of forestland, sometimes for a few cents an acre, and cut, graded and trestled hundreds of miles of narrow-gauge railroad track into the steep hills and hollows of the wilderness. They, and the rivers and streams, carried logs to the mills. The sawmill at Grandin consumed seventy acres of woodland a day. 

By 1920, the pine forests, and the mill, and the jobs, were gone. Those who had come to work the woods tried to stay and eke out a living from the thin soils of the deforested hills. But their efforts only produced meager crops and more erosion, and by 1928, large areas of the once rich timberland had become wasteland. 

The National Forests 
"By the mid-1930s, Missouri forest and wildlife resources were at an all-time low. The forests were burned and abused. Gravel, eroded from the hillsides, choked the once-clear streams. An estimated 2,000 deer remained in the entire state, and turkeys declined to a few thousand birds in scattered flocks. In 1929, the Missouri National Forest Association successfully lobbied the Legislature to permit the federal government to purchase land in Missouri for a national forest. Eight purchase units were set up in 1934-35, and the national forests became a reality. Eventually, 1.5 million acres of cut-over forest land was acquired--the land that nobody else wanted."
(Missouri Forests in the Past

Traveling Picture Shows 
One of the problems in restoring the forest cover came from the people themselves. They believed the burning of the undergrowth in spring reduced the population of ticks and, because the small dose of potash from wood ashes caused a "flush" of green, burning somehow "fertilized" the poor soil. In reality, it only caused more erosion and left the land poorer than before. A mobile educational program, complete with a truck-mounted generator, movie projector and screen, took forestry movies into rural areas where there was no electricity. 

"The pictures were shown outdoors, in crossroads stores, at country churches and schools, [bringing] movies to people who had never seen one in their lives. This mobile entertainment operated for 12 years, continuing even through World War II." (Missouri Forests in the Past) 

Once people understood and private landowners began to cooperate, fire prevention programs began to work. Federal and state foresters planted seedlings and improved woodlots, and taught landowners to do the same. Today, Missouri's forests are healthy once again. Less than one-tenth of one percent of the forest burns each year, and deer, turkey and other wildlife now exist in record numbers. 

In This Section

Grandin Mill in Carter County, east of Bryant Creek, consumed seventy acres of woodland a day. In its time it was the largest lumber mill in the world. 

The Big Mill was located on Bryant Creek, near the Hwy. 95 bridge. It was owned by the Landers and Barker Lumber Company. 
Making Tar Logging left stumps with sap-filled heartwood, good for making tar. People used tar for waterproofing all kinds of things, from roofs to tarps.
  Source: Missouri Forests in the Past, a history of Missouri's forests, published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Photos from American Lumberman magazine, May 1903.