Last chance to celebrate 100 years of forestry | TheFencePost.com

Last chance to celebrate 100 years of forestry

Richard Snell
Barton County Extension Agent

Kansans have an abiding love for trees, especially as you go west in the state where we don’t have that many. If you want to add to our tree volume, Monday, May 3, is your last chance to order conservation tree and shrub seedlings this spring through the Barton County Extension Office and the Kansas Forest Service.

To get a tree order form, with descriptions on the back side, just stop by our office at the corner of 12th and Baker Street in Great Bend between 8-5, Monday through Friday, or call (620) 793-1910. You can also e-mail me at rsnell@ksu.edu for any questions.

The Kansas Forest Service has reached the century mark which accentuates that love of trees that we have. For those who learned about Kansas through The Wizard of Oz or Little House on the Prairie, a new state milestone could seem strange, even bewildering.

But, deep-rooted Kansans see nothing odd about it. This past December, Kirk Schulz seemed at home with the idea, too, as he helped the Kansas Forest Service celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Schulz was part of the celebration because he recently became the 13th president of Kansas State University. The forest service traces its history back to 1909, when Gov. Walter R. Stubbs created a forestry division at K-State (then called Kansas State Agricultural College). That tie remains.

“We’re still understaffed and underfunded, much as we were in 1909,” said State Forester Larry Biles. “Looking back, though, we have plenty of reason to be proud. Professional forestry has had a profound impact in the state. It’s touched many thousands of peoples’ lives and improved both the livability and the sustainability of Kansas itself.”

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“If nothing else, think about all of the Kansas-grown Christmas trees that were available this year. Many of them started out as seedlings in our Conservation Tree Planting Program.”

Until the Louisiana Purchase made Kansas a U.S. possession in 1803, its trees were mostly an unknown except, that is, to roaming Indians and huge, nomadic buffalo herds.

“In the decades after that, however, Kansas’ forests — especially those near streams and rivers — came under enormous pressure. Frontier Army posts, relocated Indian tribes, gold seekers, U.S. settlers and railroad crews all had a cumulative impact,” said Larry Rutter, certified Kansas Tree Farmer and now forestry historian, retired from the Kansas Historical Society.

“In the mid 1800s, violent disagreements about slavery joined the mix, turning parts of the territory into Bleeding (burning) Kansas,” he said. Other parts became the log-built Wild West of dime novel fame.

“History suggests, though, that Kansans were already becoming prudent, at least on the subject of trees,” said Bob Atchison, KFS rural forestry coordinator. If you compare what they were doing about trees then with what we remember as popular history now, the contrast can be pretty amazing.

For example, just two years after becoming a state, Kansas in 1863 founded what’s arguably the oldest U.S. land-grant university. It would be a center for High Plains forestry research, teaching and Extension.

That was a year before Jim Mead opened a trading post in the site known now as Wichita, KS. It was two years before the Chisholm Trail opened Kansas for marketing Texas longhorns. The Russian Mennonites who brought Turkey Red winter wheat to the state wouldn’t arrive for another 11 years.

As those Mennonites were settling, however, Kansas was already leading the nation in filing claims under the Timber Culture Act (1873-1891). This law gave homesteaders title to a quarter-section of land if they’d agree to plant 10 acres of trees on it.

The Timber Culture Act established more trees here than any program since. Many of those plantations still stand today. Also, at one time, almost every farm and weekly paper had a column named ‘Tree Topics’ or ‘Timber Tales.’ Our settlers clearly had an abiding interest in forests, in trees.

The KFS also offers regular workshops and field days, plus professional plans and/or technical help for landowners, rural firefighters, arborists, timber/nut growers and processors, road planners, city tree boards, wildlife promoters, teachers, and anyone with property next to a stream or river. It helps connect Kansans to surplus firefighting equipment and government cost-share programs. It grows thousands of low-cost, Plains-tough tree and shrub seedlings yearly for Kansans’ conservation plantings. Descriptions of such programs and lists of forestry-related resources are on the Web at http://www.kansasforests.org/.

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