This article is from a monthly publication for Kansas residents called “Kansas Country Living”. I wanted to post it here in response to some uninformed comments I have endured from ‘outsiders’ and throughout my travels. One of the biggest remarks was how barren and flat Kansas is. This simply isn’t true. I hope you all enjoy the article and perhaps even come away with a new perception of the Sunflower State.
Despite perception Kansas’ woodlands are extensive.
Put the words Kansas and forests in the same sentence, and most people might think you have the makings of a good joke.
The truth is Kansas has more than 5,000,000 acres of forest. Believe it or not, Kansas’ forested area is almost 5 times the acreage in Grand Canyon national Park and 2.7 times the land in Yellowstone. Plus, it’s about 50,000 acres more than the combined areas of Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island.
With all of this wooded area, why is Kansas thought of primarily as treeless prairie? Quite simply, the states woods are widespread, along river banks in areas far away from well-traveled roads. While many states have state forests, Kansas doesn’t.
”Out of sight, out of mind” might be appropriate terminology.
It may be all about terminology, too. While people may question forests in Kansas, they easily understand the term “woodlands.”
Including sample of this can be found in Southeast Kansas a vast wooded area stretches across Oklahoma and into Central Texas. Called Cross Timbers, it’s recognized as the most ancient old-growth forest in the eastern United States.
If non-foresters are confused by that, they probably don’t know how the US Department of Agriculture defines “Forest.”
The official qualifications have to do with scientific measures, not image or atmosphere.
The USDA forest service says a forest is land with:
A tree cover canopy of more than 10%,
An area of more than 1 acre, and
At least 120 feet in width. It can be natural or planted.
Kansas has about 2.2 million acres of forest land that meets at least one of the criteria. The remaining approximately 3,000,000 acres is in agroforestry resources, such as windbreaks, riparian forests (trees adjacent to streams), and isolated trees. There are also an estimated 85,825 acres of urban forests in Kansas.
Whether referred to as forests or woodlands, trees do valuable work. They protect homes, livestock, crops and roads from wind, sun and drifting snow. These reduce utility costs by shielding residences from winter wind and summer sun. They filter pollutants from runoff. And they reduce soil erosion during heavy rains.
Research has shown trees are an important resource for livestock operations. Cattle protected by windbreaks use their winter feed more efficiently and have higher calving rates.
Kansas actually has nine types of multiple-use forest, with names such as Bottomland, Eastern Upland and Ozark. If the forests aren’t obvious, that’s because they aren’t nine separate tracts. They are numerous scattered plots, often 50 acres or less. Some are in state parks and recreation areas. Most are growing on private property that aren’t visible from a highway.
Kansans often don’t register the fact when they do see local forests. They tend to notice woodlands in terms of what the trees are doing. For example, all across the state we have acres and acres of trees alongside our streams and rivers. These riparian forests are why the Cottonwood and American Elm are native to both Western and Eastern Kansas. In Eastern Kansas, these are also made up of hardwoods like black walnut and bur Oak. The species are the states most valuable timber resource, selling to markets as far away as Japan. They are milled into high-end furniture or sliced into valuable veneers.
About half of Eastern Kansas’ woodlands are saw-log size (more than 40 inches around). Each year, this forested area adds enough new wood to build more than 1000 homes.
While our states trees may sometimes seem invisible, they are on the job, adding beauty and functionality to the landscape.