Hank Stelzer, a forester with MU Extension, offers this analogy when trying to explain why it’s important to manage forested land:
“Just think about a garden and what happens if you do not weed and thin out the weaker plants,” Stelzer said. “Same principle in the forest.”
Beginning this month, MU will offer its Missouri Woodland Steward Program to landowners across the state.
“We see both big and small landowners, but to be truly effective and to qualify for various state and federal programs, you should have at least 10 acres of woodlands,” said Stelzer, the coordinator of this year’s program.
Workshops will be held around the state. The Columbia workshop will take place on Sept. 11 at the MU Extension Center. The course will consist of DVD-based presentations and a field trip to Lick Creek Conservation Area and a large property near Harrisburg.
“The objective of the field trip is to reinforce the indoor sessions and let landowners see the results of various land management practices,” Stelzer said.
During the program, landowners will learn about practices and methods to manage their acreages and provide a better habitat for wildlife. Information will range from how to assess the condition of their forest to how to care for a woodland garden.
Woodland Steward is targeted at landowners who have never managed their property for any reason, Stelzer said.
“And with over 90 percent of Missouri’s private woodlands not under management, that is a very large audience,” he said.
The U.S. Forestry Service has found that Missouri is among the worst states when it comes to rough and rotten woods that result from not managing forests, Stelzer said.
Stelzer said there are other benefits as well. Healthier forests translate into more abundant wildlife, he said.
“Healthier forests mean more ... acorn-producing trees that can support more deer, turkey and squirrels,” Stelzer said. “Healthier forest edge, where the woods meet the field, means better habitat for quail, rabbits and songbirds.”
Other than wildlife, there are also many incentives for humans. Stelzer said better-managed woodlands result in cleaner water because of the ecosystem’s increased ability to filter out pollutants. Stelzer said healthy forest growth slows down the runoff of sediment into streams. As in farming, roots have the potential to absorb pesticides and excess fertilizer, he said.
Healthy forests mean higher-quality wood products that maintain and grow rural economies that depend on Missouri’s forests for their economic livelihood, he said.