MANHATTAN, Kan. — For 81 years, the forests and woodlands of Kansas have been inventoried by the U.S. Forest Service in collaboration with the Kansas Forest Service at Kansas State University to track changes in the size and condition of this valuable resource.
The most recent inventory information is summarized in a report, Forests of Kansas, 2016. It provides insights into how much of Kansas is forested and with what types of trees.
Forest land in Kansas has increased in area almost every year, from 1.2 million acres in 1936 to 2.4 million acres in 2016. For the first time since 1936, however, instead of forestland increasing in area, it decreased from 2,527,000 acres in 2015 to 2,481,400 in 2016. It is unclear what caused the reduction, but it may be associated with the purposeful removal of trees in woody encroached grasslands and the conversion of riparian forest into cropland, according to Bob Atchison, rural forestry coordinator with the Kansas Forest Service.
The latest inventory showed that of the state’s most common trees, hackberry now exceeds cottonwood as the species with the most volume followed by American elm, green ash, Osage orange, and black walnut. Regarding tree numbers, Kansas has 838 million trees with hackberry leading, followed by American elm and eastern redcedar.
The large number of eastern redcedar points to the issue of its invasive nature into grasslands, said Atchison, adding that hackberry and American elm are examples of shade-tolerant species that can dominate much of the closed-canopy forests in Kansas. This, he said, suggests a need to reduce the density of Kansas forests through thinning, prescribed burning, and timber harvest. That will allow more sunlight to reach forest floors encouraging oaks, walnut, and other trees that require full sunlight to thrive.
Thanks to an important partnership with the USFS Northern Research Station and its Forest Inventory Analysis Program, for the first time, Kansas has a state-wide map of aerial photos of tree cover at a 1 meter resolution. The project has identified another 3.8 million acres of trees in addition to our forestlands.
“This inventory will help us to understand changes in the size and condition of our windbreaks, shelterbelts, and riparian woodlands that are critical to our quality of life in Kansas,” Atchison said.