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.
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
Harvesting the Forest
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
Traveling Picture Shows
"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.
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.