MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas landscape could be described as rather unique when considering how central hardwood forests meet the tallgrass prairie to produce an ecotone—a place of transition from one plant community to another.
“For many of our Kansas farmers, there’s always a question, ‘Are trees good, or are trees bad?’” said Bob Atchison, rural forestry leader for the Kansas Forest Service at Kansas State University. “We certainly don’t want them in our grasslands, but we do want them associated with our streams, rivers and areas where they provide benefits that improve the quality of life for us here in Kansas.”
Educating farmers and other private landowners about woodland management is an important goal of the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Stewardship Program. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the program, which was established by the 1990 Farm Bill.
Through the Forest Stewardship Program, the Kansas Forest Service and other states’ forest agencies work one-on-one with landowners to provide technical advice such as what trees to plant for windbreaks and where to plant them, how to establish woodlots with valuable trees, and how to improve water quality by planting trees to stabilize the banks of creeks, rivers and streams. These recommendations are provided through long-term, comprehensive, multi-resource Forest Stewardship Plans.
“We are always trying to encourage our Kansas farmers to think more about trees as something that can actually increase the value of their farm,” Atchison said.
In addition to providing expertise on tree planting for a variety of reasons, the Forest Stewardship Program also allows for the transfer of knowledge from foresters to private landowners on how they can keep the forestry industry vibrant for rural communities. This includes, for example, informing private woodland owners about incentives to retain forests when faced with threats of urbanization.
Atchison said the program also helps the landowners understand how other issues that include climate change, invasive insects and diseases affect the quality of woodlands and wildlife habitat.
Trees in Kansas
Many times, the types of tree species dominating the woodlands concern landowners, and the Forest Stewardship Program helps address these issues. Atchison said a good example is species such as black walnut and bur oak provide commercial and wildlife value, but many times they are out-competed by other trees that are more tolerant of shade.
The black walnut and bur oak trees, he said, must have full sunlight to grow. Trees such as the shade-loving hackberry that are lower quality sometimes end up taking over.
A U.S Forest Service Forest and Inventory Analysis report from 2014 (http://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/ru/ru_fs42.pdf) found Kansas to have 2.5 million acres of forestland, and 93 percent of Kansas’ forests are privately owned. Since 2009, there has been an 11 percent gain in forest area that contains the 846 million trees in the state.
Data from the report shows hackberry as one of the top five most numerous trees in Kansas. Other top species include American elm, eastern redcedar, Osage-orange and green ash. The cottonwood, the state tree of Kansas, has the most tree volume in the state, followed closely by hackberry.
Atchison said eastern redcedar is an example of a tree that is beneficial for planting windbreaks but is invasive to grasslands. Other species that have been introduced can also pose problems for woodland owners.
“We have species that have been introduced like bush honeysuckle, an Asian honeysuckle, which ends up taking over the understory of our woodlands and keeps our more valuable tree species from regenerating the way they would otherwise,” Atchison said.
For more information about the Forest Stewardship Program or to ask questions about your particular woodlands, contact the Kansas Forest Service at www.kansasforests.org or 785-532-3300.
A video about the 25th anniversary of the Forest Stewardship Program featuring Atchison is available on the K-State Research and Extension YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd7pE19GqlE&feature=youtu.be).