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Group Seeks to Find, Protect Oldest Forests in Missouri, U.S.

Downed trees in a forest provide soil nutrients as well as homes for a variety of species. (Virginia Carter)
Downed trees in a forest provide soil nutrients as well as homes for a variety of species. (Virginia Carter)
May 15, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – An effort is underway to designate an old-growth forest in every county in the United States that has forestland.

The Old-Growth Forest Network is spearheading the effort.

The group’s executive director, Joan Maloof, says 95 percent of the nation's original forestland has been removed or radically altered.

She says people who want to visit an older forest often have to travel many miles to do so, and if those forests aren't protected now, future generations won't get a chance to experience them at all.

Maloof says tall trees help identify an old-growth forest, but tree age isn't the only consideration. She explains downed logs slowly release nutrients to the forest floor, which feed new growth and provide homes for a variety of species.

"You will find some trees that are larger than you would find in a more recently logged forest,” she points out. “And they're home for so many organisms – so much fungi, so many insects, so many reptiles and amphibians. "

In Missouri, about 62,000 acres of forestland contain some trees at least 130 years old, but fewer than 800 acres are considered prime examples of undisturbed old growth forest.

That works out to less than .05 of 1 percent of Missouri's 14 million acres of forestland.

Maloof says about 3 out of 4 counties nationwide have forests worth preserving, and she believes spending time in these undisturbed spots can improve a person's health.

"In addition to what we see through our eyes – the birds and the insects and the fungi that are there – we're also breathing in things that are given off by all those organisms that can actually affect our health and our mood," she explains.

Maloof says volunteers are key to saving forests across the country and her group is looking for people who can help.

It also is asking Missourians to nominate areas to be considered for inclusion in the Old-Growth Forest Network. That can be done at oldgrowthforest.net.


Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO