Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Pioneering Pioneer Forest and the Population Center of the U.S.

Wendell Berry had suggested a visit to the Pioneer Forest in Salem, Missouri (37°34') to learn about a half-century long experiment in sustainable forestry. We met foresters Jason Green and Brandon Kuhn, and Terry Cunningham, the Forest Manager, told us about the forest. It began with Leo Drey, a visionary who purchased 150,000 acres of forest lands, most from a distillery company (that had used the oak wood for barrels). Drey aimed to demonstrate methods of sustainable logging of the oak forests. The Pioneer Forest follows a long-term cycle of single-tree harvesting that makes for an aesthetically pleasing forest with trees of different age-classes, that minimizes erosion and run-off impacts on the watershed, and improves reproduction and overall health of the trees. This stands in contrast to a clear-cutting approach favored by the Forest Service in such mixed hardwood forests, where regrowth produces dog-hair thickets that must be aggressively thinned. An aerial photograph on an office wall revealed how widely spaced the cut stumps were within an otherwise untouched-canopy of large trees.
During our visit it was cold and rainy, and we would have had to drive over 60 miles south to tour the forest, so we stayed at the headquarters in Salem on our visit. They loaded us up with publications about their management, including a dvd they produced for owners of private forest land, emphasizing techniques for minimizing watershed impacts.
Later, we drove to the north end of the Ozark National Riverways Park (a unit of the National Park System) where the Current River provides canoeing and fishing recreation. Along much of the waterway, the Pioneer Forest is a neighbor to the park (the park itself only owns a narrow strip of shoreline along the riverbanks). The Pioneer Forest staff have been encouraging the park service to reduce recreational impacts from its users and bring management more in line with standard national park service resource protection.
And then, off to nearby Edgar Springs and an intriguing geographical landmark. After each national census, the “population center” of the nation is identified. For the last few decades, that point has hovered around the 38th parallel, gradually shifting westward and southward. Edgar Springs (37°41', 91°52') is a tiny little place, south of Rolla in central Missouri. Its distinction was noted on the highway sign, but we went into town to see what else might be found. The lady at the general store said she thought maybe there was a stone marker up at the north end of town, but added, “I never go that way.” We found the stone (outside the gates of a cemetery with its own stones telling a population story), took our photos, and figured that, even in a hamlet that small there was a drift toward the southern side of town.
.Oak woodlands gave way to prairie, as rain chased us the rest of the way across western Missouri. Not far from Missouri's western border, we stopped by another presidential birthplace: Harry Truman was born in Lamar (37°30', 94°16'). The house was closed, but a friendly cat in the yard made us welcome. Tonight we are at Fort Scott, Kansas. Tall grass prairie, saline wetlands, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Ogallala aquifer are out there to the west.

1 comment:

  1. Great article!!! Thanks for sharing "our" story!
    Terry Cunningham, Pioneer Forest