Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pioneer Forest, A fascinating concept in sustainable forestry

Pick up a Missouri road map and look at the southern half. Land south of the Missouri river is hilly and forested. There are extensive tracts of land in the Mark Twain National Forest. Some of the most vigorous forest is not in these tracts. South of Salem stands the 160,000 acre Pioneer Forest. Pioneer Forest is a for profit business. Privately owned until 2004 by Leo Drey, this forest is a unique and special place representing Leo’s inspired vision for sustainable uneven aged forestry.

Southern Missouri forests were heavily logged in the early part of the 20th century. Some of Pioneer Forest had little quality timber standing at the time it was purchased. The vision that guided Drey was to harvest trees from the forest in a way that would leave the forest in better condition over time. To this end they do not harvest the prime trees, but trees that show signs of damage or stress. Only 12 – 15 trees of the 32 larger trees per acre are harvested. Trees smaller than 9” in diameter are rarely harvested. A tract of land may be harvested every 16 to 20 years. Through selective harvesting such as this, it takes 200 years to replace the canopy in any area of the forest. See: for more information

Slow canopy replacement allows for gradual adaptation of the forest dwellers, both plant and animal. Environmental impact is minimal. No replanting is done after a harvest as nature provides the means for this. No chemicals are used for brush/pest control. Clear cutting is occasionally used in very small areas to control infestations of wood borer insects. Areas clear-cut to date amount to less than 1% of the acreage. This is rarely necessary as general forestry practices employed in Pioneer Forest provide for a vigorous and healthy forest which has its own defenses against disease and infestation.

The owners of the forest benefit from profits generated by an increasing supply and quality of wood, increasing demand, increasing market price, and low overhead from lack of replanting and low maintenance costs.

In the 53 years of its existence, most of Pioneer Forest has been logged twice, much has been logged three times, and certain portions have been logged four times. Harvested wood is sold to saw mills or is sold as firewood and for Missouri’s charcoal manufacturing industry. Actual logging is done by subcontractors. Most of the loggers are second and third generation since the forest began. Long term relationships have provided a development of understanding as to the expectations of Pioneer Forest personnel. Pioneer Forest employs a Forest Manager as well as a staff of foresters who do research, monitor health of the forest, and select trees for the annual timber sales.

As a visionary, Leo Drey recognized the intrinsic value of some of the lands he purchased. Some were old growth virgin stands which he set aside and does not log. Many springs, mills, creeks and waterways of significant tourist value are found within the forest. Many of these are leased to Missouri DNR and are managed as state parks, historic sites and natural areas. Drey operates these philanthropic activities through the LAD Foundation. In 2004 Drey deeded the entire Pioneer Forest over to LAD Foundation for management in perpetuity.

Long live Pioneer Forest.

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