Like Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” the Kansas Forest Service at Kansas State University has been speaking for the trees for the past 125 years.
The forest service got its start March 10, 1887, when the state of Kansas established the commissioner of forestry office to encourage and promote forestry practices. The state Legislature assigned administrative responsibilities for state forestry to Kansas State University in 1909.
To commemorate its 125 years of promoting state forestry efforts, the forest service will offer several events throughout the year, including Tree City, March 28; Agro Forestry, May 10; Walnut Council, June 1; an anniversary open house, Oct. 4; and Fall Forestry Field Day, Oct. 18.
The state has also recognized the forest service’s longtime contributions. Gov. Sam Brownback issued a proclamation honoring the Kansas Forest Service on Feb. 24, and the state Senate and House passed resolutions to honor the anniversary.
“Celebrating the 125th anniversary is significant because Kansans clearly like trees,” said Larry Biles, state forester. “Over the years Kansans have planted nearly half as many acres of trees as are found naturally.”
Although the establishment of the commissioner of forestry office was a milestone event, interest in planting trees began 22 years earlier. In 1865 the Kansas Legislature established a 50-cent bounty for planting and cultivating five acres of wood crops that would aid with water and wind damage control. This bounty was to be paid for 25 years. Three years later the bounty was raised to $2, and an additional $2 was also provided for each half mile of trees planted not more than a mile apart along public highways.
Despite the state’s reputation for flat plains and rolling prairies, forest trees play an integral role in the Kansas ecosystem.
“Kansas’ rivers, ponds and lakes are filling with sediment due to the removal of riparian forests along streambeds,” Biles said. “Trees and woody vegetation stabilize stream banks and help slow sedimentation.”
To foster healthy forestry practices and reduce issues such as sedimentation, the Kansas Forest Service educates and provides Kansans with tools through programs such as conservation trees, fire management, community forestry, rural forestry, forest health and wood products program.
“These programs clearly reflect fulfillment of the agency’s mission of care of natural resources and service to people through forestry,” Biles said.
Some key events in the history of the Kansas Forest Service include:
• In 1909 the Kansas Legislature assigned administration responsibilities for the state forestry to Kansas State University;
• In 1957 a revised conservation tree-planting program began, providing seedlings to landowners;
• In 1963 the community fire program was started, currently serving more than 500 volunteer fire districts;
• In 1968 the current Kansas Forest Service building, 2610 Claflin Road, Manhattan, was built;
• In 1997 the name was changed to Kansas Forest Service; and
• In 2009, Kansas’ first state forest, in Butler County, was established.
In the service’s forest action plan, Biles has identified those challenges as forest health, water quality and quantity, biodiversity and wildlife habitat management, forest sustainability, windbreak and shelterbelt planting and management, and economic benefits.