State Forestry Assessment completed as part of U.S. resource analysis
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Published: 14-Jul-2010

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 14-Jul-2010

Oklahoma’s forestry resource assessment, completed last month as part of a national mandate, demonstrates anew diversity of forest types in the Sooner State. Among information contained in the lengthy report is documentation of the 90 percent of state forests owned by private landowners. 

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, state Forester John Burwell said the report may finally shatter mythical remnants of Oklahoma as still a Dust Bowl. As he observed, “Oklahoma has almost 10 million acres of forestland covering nearly 23% of the state.”

The Forest Resource Assessment is the culmination of an eighteen-month project recently completed by the State Forestry Division, a unit of the State Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Forestry Services participated in this nation-wide effort to analyze forests in each state and the issues which face them. Release of the assessment of forestry resources coincides with completion of a nationwide effort that began late in the presidency of George W. Bush.

The state assessment contains many little known facts about Oklahoma’s forests that may surprise readers such as:

·      Oklahoma has one of the most diverse natural landscapes of any state, with nine different forest types and over 150 species of trees.

·      Oklahoma has the largest remaining tracts of Cross Timbers, one of the most ancient forest types in the United States.

·      Sawmills are spread across the state and range in size from small mills near Woodward and Edmond to the larger mills of eastern Oklahoma.

·      The timber industry provides over 10,000 forestry related jobs, with annual value of product shipments of more than $2.5 billion.

·      The first shelterbelt planted under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Prairie States Shelterbelt Program, in 1935, is located near Mangum.

Oklahoma’s forests provide significant human benefits and forest products, including clean water and air, wildlife habitat, erosion control, community livability, scenic beauty, carbon sequestration and recreational opportunities.

Burwell said, “Although Oklahoma’s forests are generally healthy and productive, they and these associated benefits we all rely on could be lost if the State and our partners do not address the issues and threats identified in the Assessment. We worked with many agencies, private citizens and foresters across Oklahoma to identify these issues and develop strategies that will shape the way we utilize and grow our forests in the future.”

Six critical issues identified were forest health and sustainability, economics and markets, water quality and quantity, community forests health and care, wildfire risks and the impact of climate change on forest resources.

“We are encouraging Oklahomans to visit our website and read the Assessment. We believe they will be truly amazed at the breadth and depth of our forestlands,” said Erin Johnson, forest resource planner and the state assessment project lead.

Fifty-nine members of the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), including here, have completed the first-ever comprehensive Statewide Forest Resource Assessments and Strategies.

The national effort towards protecting and sustaining healthy forests analyzes conditions and trends in each state, and lists priority rural and urban forest issues. Strategies provide long-term plans for addressing needs identified in the assessments through state agency initiatives, partner engagement and federal investments. Individually and as a whole, the Statewide Forest Resource Assessments and Strategies represent an invaluable asset for forest conservation decision-making.

The assessments and strategies were authorized by the forestry title of the 2008 Farm Bill, which set into motion landmark changes in the way trees and forests on all lands will be managed, conserved, used and enjoyed today and for future generations. It sets the stage for local, state and federal investments that target the highest priority conservation needs.

It also contributes to a framework for goals including slowing forest loss, mitigating the effects of climate change, protecting communities from wildfire, creating jobs and supporting markets for forest products.

State agencies developed their assessments and strategies with a degree of flexibility, but all were guided by three national priorities: 1) Conserve working forest landscapes, 2) Protect forests from threats, and 3) Enhance public benefits from trees and forests.

Using public input, local expertise and the best available data, the documents also incorporate existing management plans -- including state wildlife action plans and community wildfire protection plans -- to identify existing partnerships and new opportunities for cooperation between government, private landowners and the conservation community.

The result, according to an analysis provided at the request of CapitolBeatOK, “will be healthier and more resilient landscapes, better and more fire-adapted communities, improved habitat, air and water quality, and a host of other public benefits that come from actively and sustainably managed forests.”

With all assessments and strategies delivered to the U.S. Forest Service in June, every U.S. state and territory has a meaningful account of and targeted plan for America's trees and forests. Long term, release of the documents marks the beginning of an ongoing process of resource management and planning that will be revisited annually and updated every five years.

The National Association of State Foresters, an umbrella group for those who developed the state-level assessments, seeks to advance sustainable forestry, conservation, and protection of forest lands and associated resources.

Oklahoma’s final product concludes a detailed process that moved into high gear when a “first draft” was submitted in March.

Urban forests – tagged “community forests” in the report – gained several pages of scrutiny in the final state document. Authors said there is a “general lack of understanding, management, and conservation of” community forests. Included in the analysis are “native and planted trees and wooded areas in and around developments, neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities (on both public and private land).”

Healthy urban (community) forests provide “benefits and values such as air quality, water quality and quantity (flood control, ground water recharge), wildlife habitat, quality of life (shade, color, improved health, stress relief, beautification, recreation, etc.) and energy conservation.”

Green space and “infrastructure” includes street trees, trees in parks, along creeks, waterways and “riparian corridors, as well as individual trees and stands, all feeding the identify of an urban area. The report details the role of community forests in cleaning air and water, protecting people and homes from sun, wind and noise, and in reducing energy costs and providing habitat for wildlife.

Additionally, urban trees “conserve soil, slow storm water runoff, filter pollutants before reaching our waterways, improve the mental and physical health of people and can increase property value.”

Concerning urban forests, “To continue to enjoy the many benefits and services provided from our forests, it is extremely important that natural resource professionals and the citizens of Oklahoma work together to care for the health of the trees within our community forests as well as all forested landscapes across the state.”

Each of the state’s 599 incorporated municipalities have community forest resources, and nearly two-thirds of the state’s population lived in a designated “urban area” as of the 2000 Census.

Growing suburban populations have led to “the wildland urban interface,” where an increasing percentage of the state’s population resides. Authors of the assessment contend, “It is important that communities consider green infrastructure when developing urban land-use plans. Green infrastructure is the network of open space, wildlife habitat, parks, and natural features that support healthy, functioning communities. When planning community infrastructure, the trees and forests, wildlife, waterways and other natural features should be considered in order to reduce impacts to the working ecosystem. Developing or protecting greenbelts and corridors can help conserve riparian areas and wildlife habitats.”

On an issue that drew much attention in the last legislative session, the report notes that community forests “are also impacted by the expansion of native eastern red cedar and invasive or exotic species such as Chinese privet and other ornamental trees such as the popular Bradford Pear can become an invasive species on rural landscapes. Insects and diseases can cause serious problems to trees around our communities, including but not limited to oak decline, defoliators, pinewood nematodes, needle blights, canker diseases, wilt diseases, Dutch elm disease and emerald ash borers.”

Near conclusion of the community forest section, the authors conclude, “Some of the greatest threats to Oklahoma’s community forests are the result of ignorance. Most people do not understand tree physiology and have little knowledge of or experience in natural resource issues, including tree care. This lack of awareness results in improper pruning, poor species selection, lawnmower blight, failure to match species to growing space and site conditions, improper planting techniques, failure to recognize hazardous trees, and interference with other elements of urban infrastructure, including power lines, water lines, sidewalks, streetlights, fences and neighbors.”

Only 25 of the state’s 599 municipalities are designated a “tree city.” However, those 25 represent 70 percent of the state’s urban populace, and about 50 percent of the overall population. In the words of the analysis, “improvement in the number of participating communities will extend the benefits of community forestry statewide.”

The state assessment itself includes dozens of illustrations, charts and graphs which, upon examination, are within the intellectual grasp of non-specialists.

The report is highly recommended. To learn more, visit http://www.forestry.ok.gov/2010-assessment-final-documents or contact Erin Johnson at 405-288-2385 or George Geissler at 405-522-6158. The document will load -- but CapitolBeatOK learned it may take a few minutes.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.

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