Forests in Kansas
There are 5.2 million acres of forests, woodlands, and trees in Kansas that occupy 10 percent of the state’s total land area. These forests resources can be described as rural forests (2.2 million acres), agroforests (2 million acres of windbreaks, shelterbelts, streamside forests and fence rows), and community forests (1 million acres). Ninety-five percent of the State’s rural forest is privately owned. The remaining five percent is under the ownership and control of public agencies such as the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and the U.S. Department of Defense and Corp of Engineers.
According to the USDA Forest Service, Kansas’ private forests are owned by 117,000 families and individuals. Sixty-five percent of these owners hold fewer than 10 acres of forestland. Fortunately, however, sixty-five percent of the State’s forest acreage is in ownership sizes of 10 – 99 acres and twenty-five percent in ownerships of more than 100 acres.
Most forest owners in Kansas own the lands as part of their farm. Their ownership objectives are quite similar to non-farm owners with family legacy, aesthetics, and protection of nature being the principle ownership objectives. The most common use of the State’s forest is private recreation. Trespassing and undesirable plants are the two greatest concerns of landowners.
Kansas Forests are predominately located in the eastern third of Kansas on rich alluvial bottomlands and on moist upland sites. Kansas forests are steadily increasing in area. Since the first official inventory in 1936, Kansas forests have increased by 3.9 million acres. Although speculative, increase in forestland has occurred primarily in uplands and from woody encroachment into grasslands. Although the total area of forest land is on the rise, forests with high ecological value continue to be converted to valuable agriculture crops and urban land use.
The top 10 tree species by volume include cottonwood (395.1 million cubic feet), hackberry (381.5
million cubic feet), green ash (221.1 million cubic feet), American elm (216.9 million cubic feet), Osage
orange (203.4 million cubic feet), black walnut (169 million cubic feet), bur oak (143.7 million cubic feet), mulberry (125.6 million cubic feet), American sycamore (113.2 million cubic feet), and honey locust (104.9 million cubic feet).
Increases in volume and tree numbers of shade tolerant species like hackberry will continue to suppress oak regeneration, which has limited tolerance to shade. Although black walnut ranks sixth in net volume it is the most economically valuable tree species in Kansas. Half of the volume of black walnut occurs in fully stocked stands, which does not bode well for a species that requires full sunlight to regenerate.
Since 1981, cottonwood, the state tree of Kansas, has not been regenerating in sufficient quantities to maintain the forest type, although growing stock volume has increased. In 2008 annual mortality and removals of live trees were at 61 million cubic feet. Even so, there was still a net increase of growth of 53.5 million cubic feet.
The overall increase in tree volume and density of Kansas forests suggests that forest health problems are on the horizon. Of principle concern is thousand cankers disease of black walnut, and the Emerald Ash Borer. Both of these problems are found in states bordering Kansas thus the threats are relatively eminent.
Kansas has 289,577 acres of windbreaks that stretch a total length of 43,436 miles. Enough to cross the state east to west almost 100 times! These windbreaks provide wind protection to 1.2 million acres of land with 59 percent protecting fields, 28 percent surrounding farmsteads and homes and 12 percent protecting livestock. Kansas field windbreaks provide wind protection to an estimated 579,221 acres. In addition to environmental values, such as reduction in wind erosion, these windbreaks can increase crop yields on an average of 10 percent. Based on an average of 120 bushels of wheat per acre at $4.50 per bushel, they offer more than $31 million dollars of value to Kansas farmers.
Additionally, Kansas windbreaks also protect an estimated 65,187 farmsteads providing 20 percent annual savings in energy bills. Based on an annual average of $2,000 for heating costs per farmstead, windbreaks potentially save Kansans more than $26 million each year. An estimated 56 percent of these windbreaks are in good condition and 44 percent fair to poor (Figure 2.6). The inventory also found 20 percent less than 25 years old, 59 percent between 25 to 50 years and 21 percent older than 50 years. The most common species found included Osage orange (17 million trees), hackberry (15 million trees), eastern redcedar (8 million trees), American elm (5 million trees), Siberian elm (4 million trees) and green ash (1 million trees).