The U.S. Department of Agriculture´s Forest Service found both challenges and opportunities for Kansas with its latest inventory of state tree resources.
"Kansas has an estimated 70.8 million dry tons of above-ground, woody biomass now growing on its forested land. That suggests an untapped resource for use in producing cellulosic ethanol and other forms of energy," says Bob Atchison, rural forestry coordinator for the Kansas Forest Service.
As part of that biomass, oak, hickory and maple volume is more than 200% above 1965's count. Overall, the density of Kansas forests has increased, too - with large, mature trees dominating.
"These facts point to the potential for other income from the hardwood timber industry," Atchison says. "Besides, any kind of tree sale provides more room for planting furniture-grade hardwoods. And, in turn, that could help improve some of the troubling facts the USDA Forest Service reported."
For example, the eastern redcedar is mostly known as fence-post wood, but has an array of other uses, ranging from cedar closets to pencils. Yet, unless regularly harvested or otherwise removed, the redcedar can serve as a sentinel tree, marking the start of woody plants' encroachment into grasslands.
"The latter is the bigger concern now in Kansas. USDA's report just indicates landowners have had good reason for worrying that our redcedars are running rampant," Atchison says. "These evergreens predominate in only 5% of the state´s forests. Even so, since 1965 the volume of eastern redcedars in Kansas has grown a whopping 23,000%. To me, that sounds like a utilization opportunity."
Landowners also could make room for planting high-quality hardwoods while addressing yet another concern - the trees that are taking up space, but are unsalable to the lumber industry - largely due to defects or species. These "culls" make up about 46% of Kansas´ total woodlands, he adds.
"Still, we're continuing our recovery from the clear cutting that marked European pioneers' settlement of Kansas," Atchison says. "Since USDA´s first tree inventory in 1936, our state forest has grown from one-fourth of the 4.4 million acres that were here prior to settlement. It´s now one-half."