Analysis: Forestry Assessment a fascinating read, input requested

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 19-Mar-2010

The draft of a new assessment from Oklahoma Forestry Services could, as it reaches final form, become a powerful mechanism for developing environmentally sensitive yet economically practical public policy. In an era of tight budgets and continuing fiscal challenges, this comprehensive analysis of forest related conditions, trends, threats and opportunities will be highly useful to policy planners in state government, especially those in natural resources management.

Simultaneously, the “Oklahoma Forestry Resource Assessment” might educate, via the Internet, many outside our borders who think of the Sooner State as a vast expanse without greenery. In the words of a press release scheduled for distribution by Oklahoma Foresters in the next few days, perceptions that Oklahomans live in a “treeless prairie” are light-years from the truth; “Oklahoma has almost 10 million acres of forestland covering 23% of our state.”

The Oklahoma Forest Resource Assessment has been produced by the Forestry Services division of Oklahoma’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. The assessment was undertaken in response to a congressional mandate sent to the states through the U.S. Forest Service, State and Private Forestry (S&PF). All state forestry agencies have been required to present assessments by June 18, 2010.

Officials with Oklahoma Forestry Services explained that the new draft assessment “is part of a nation-wide project to analyze the forests of each state and the issues which face them.” A grant from the National Association of State Foresters helped finance Oklahoma’s assessment.

One of the most interesting sections focuses on the known history of Oklahoma’s forests, including the diversity in eastern forests found when Native American tribes were forced to resettle in this region in the Nineteenth Century. With the Indian tribes and arrival of white settlers came introduction of sawmills and other forest-linked economic activity, and the development, as early as 1915, of milling practices that were sensitive to forest regeneration and sustainability.

The assessment includes many useful “nuggets,” some more than bite-sized, about Oklahoma’s forest diversity, including the fact that the overwhelming majority of the state’s forests are privately owned. Information elaborated in the new study includes:

Oklahoma’s nine different forest types include over 150 species of trees.

Our state has the largest remaining tracts of Cross Timbers. These post and blackjack oaks are part of one of the most ancient forest types in the United States; yet the trees range from only 10 to 30 feet tall.

90 % of Oklahoma’s forests are owned by private landowners. 

Sawmills are spread across the state and range in size from small operations near Woodward and Edmond “to the larger mills of eastern Oklahoma where the timber industry provides over 10,000 forestry related jobs.” 

The very first shelterbelt planted under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Prairie States Shelterbelt Program, in 1935, is located near Mangum, in the far western part of the state.
The agency’s press release asserts, “Oklahoma’s forests provide our citizens clean water and air, wildlife habitat, erosion control and recreational opportunities along with obvious benefits like wood products and jobs. But these forests and associated benefits could be lost.” The release was provided to CapitolBeatOK today (Friday, March 19) by George Geissler, a management forester.

Good professional management and wise policy development remain keys to sustaining and advancing Oklahoma forestry resources, this study makes clear. The Assessment contains information on issues and threats facing state forestlands. Information contributed by several agencies, private citizens and foresters across Oklahoma will shape the way we utilize and grow our forests of the future.

On page 119-123 of the assessment will be found a special focus on challenges in urban forestry (tagged “community forests” in this document).

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

To learn more or participate in the on-line survey visit or contact Erin Johnson with Oklahoma Forestry Services at 405-521-2060.

Geissler, Johnson and specialist David Murray are primary authors of the assessment.

Note: CapitolBeatOK Editor Patrick B. McGuigan is the father of Erin Johnson, a member of the forestry team.