Green Horizons

Volume 20, Number 3
September 2016

Forest Management

The Future of Missouri Forests

By Steve Shifley | Research Forester, U.S. Forest Service

Future Forests of the Northern United States was recently published by the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station (see to download it or request a printed copy). Collectively, the 29 authors of this report describe alternative scenarios of forest change from 2010 to 2060 with results organized around themes relevant to sustainable forest management: biodiversity, productivity, health, water, biomass, carbon, timber products, non-timber products, employment, recreation, social frameworks, legal frameworks, and urban forests. Results consider alternative future scenarios-including climate change-for the 20 northern states bounded by Maine, Maryland, Missouri, and Minnesota. Following are highlights of major trends anticipated for Missouri from 2010 to 2060.

The population of Missouri is likely to increase from about 6 million people to between 7 and 9 million people. This means less forest land per capita, less recreation land per capita, and more forest owners with forest ownerships split into smaller tracts. The proportion of the total population living in the urban areas will increase, and management of urban trees and forests will become increasingly important in serving urban residents.

The total area of forest land will remain stable. Since 1977, the area of Missouri forest land has gradually increased from 13 to 15 million acres, mostly due to reversion of former agriculture land to forest. In the next 50 years, expanding urban areas will subsume perhaps 0.6 million acres of forest land, mostly in proximity to existing urban areas. Nevertheless the proportion of Missouri that is forested-currently about 35 percent-will remain above 33 percent.

The forest landscape will be dominated by middle-aged forests. As much as 63 percent of the forest area will be concentrated in 40- to 80-year age range with only 7 percent younger than 20 years and only 4 percent older than 100 years. For more detail on this clustering of age classes see the "The Future of Northern Forests" in the May issue of Green Horizons.

Forest health issues will be abundant, pervasive, and challenging. Oak decline is likely to affect large expanses of aging trees of the red oak group, especially in the Ozarks. The emerald ash borer, Asian long-horned beetle, gypsy moth, and thousand cankers disease will be constant threats, along with a wide array of invasive plants.

Water quantity will remain adequate, and water quality will decline slightly. Missouri has defined best forest management practices that protect water quality in areas where they are applied (

Figure 1. Past and projected volume of growing stock trees at least 5 inches dbh, Missouri. Stocks of biomass and carbon are expected to follow similar trends.

Growing stock volume on timberland will plateau at about 19 billion cubic feet. This results from the combination of aging forests with lower growth per acre and a small decrease in forest area due to urbanization. This pattern is a sharp change from the rapid volume increases observed from 1977 to 2010 (Figure 1).

The proportion of forest area by cover type will remain nearly constant. However, the long-term expectation for 2100 and beyond is that climate change will lead to changes in species composition that mostly occur as forests regenerate following harvest or other disturbances. With gradual changes in climate and a relatively low rate of forest regeneration, it is likely that many decades will pass before climate-induced changes in species composition become readily apparent. Two excellent resources on potential effects of climate change on Missouri forests include the Climate Change Tree Atlas (Landscape Change Research Group 2014) and the Central Hardwoods Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis (Brandt et al. 2014).

Walking, family gatherings, picnicking, photography, and driving for pleasure are likely to remain the most common recreation activities. Future participation rates are expected to increase for horseback riding and motor boating but decline for hunting and activities in primitive areas.

Those interested in more details about future trends for Missouri forests can consult the interactive Northern Forest Futures Data Dashboard ( and examine other publications described on the Northern Forest Futures website (

Brandt, Leslie; et al. 2014. Central Hardwoods ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the Central Hardwoods Climate Change Response Framework project. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-124. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 254 p.
Landscape Change Research Group. 2014. Climate change atlas. Northern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service, Delaware, OH.

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