The Kansas Forest Service’s forest health program provides statewide assistance to rural landowners and communities on forest and shade tree pests and diseases or invasive species that target wooded areas. This program, largely funded by the USDA Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry Division, provides a program coordinator and district foresters to assist in forest health surveys or assessments of woodlands and community trees.
What is forest health?
Kansas is located in a transition zone where the central hardwood forests of the United States shift into the prairies and wheat fields of the Great Plains. Because of this, there will always be on-going debate regarding the appropriate location of forests, woodlands, and windbreaks depending on cultural and societal values. The Eastern third of our state is the furthest extent of the Eastern Hardwood Forest. When you travel west, most trees have utilitarian uses like windbreaks and shelterbelts. These are planted in places where it is hard to grow trees. After all, our region is called the Great Plains, not the Great Forest. But no matter the acreage covered by trees, our native woodlands are a limited resource that provides an assortment of values.
Based off soil characteristics, moisture, and annual temperatures, there are several types of forests found around Kansas. Most of woodlands in our state can be classified into the oak/hickory or elm/ash/cottonwood groups. These forest types include areas such as, riparian, savanna, and mesic hardwoods.
There are many different definitions about what a healthy forest is based off different points of view. A healthy forest is sustainable, in that it perpetuates itself. Forests accommodate the needs of people through the economic and social values placed on them, creating products and providing services and goods.
Tree death in a forested setting can be viewed as less unsightly than in a residential yard. A value can be placed on the dead tree in a woodland for habitat, rather than a hazard as in a suburban home setting. Although if one tree dies in the forest it may not be an issue, but if many do, management is needed to mediate the pests or disease affecting the forested area. Woodlands need proper care so they can remain vigorous and provide the goods and the services the landowner wants as in the objectives of the management plan.
How healthy are Kansas forests?
Our forested areas are impacted everyday by a number of factors. All woodlands in our state are effected by something, whether it is abiotic or biotic, for example: we alter our landscapes (clearing, selective harvesting, regenerative burning), site conditions (soil characteristics), the weather (dry spells, temperature fluctuations, ice storms, high wind events, and late season frosts), insects or diseases, and general decline with age all lead to a different state of health. Some wooded areas look healthier than others, but in general our woodlands are healthy and productive with the right management decisions.