Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project MOFEP image

250 million years B.C. - 1988

Since dinosaurs ruled the earth, southern Missouri has been covered in rich lush forest. Its wide variety of trees and wildlife was what drew early settlers to the state. Ironically, by 1930, the very thing on which early settlers depended for their livelihood had nearly disappeared.

Thanks to better education and conservation practices, forests that had once nearly vanished because of overuse now cover more than 14 million acres in Missouri, and they continue to grow every year. The land cleared at the turn of the century has regenerated into the healthy forests we have today. But our conservation education doesn't stop there.

We have a great responsibility as caretakers of this land. While the demand for wood products continues to rise, increasingly better knowledge and understanding of the environment is changing the way landowners manage their forests. Our actions today create thousands of reactions tomorrow we may not be able to see, but may be vitally important to the earth's ecological balance.

As caretakers, we need to know about these reactions in order to conserve healthy forest ecosystems. Until this century, settlers thought forest resources would last forever. But the trees nearly vanished, taking with them everything from birds, flowers, mice and lizards to insects, soil and nutrients, all of which comprise a forest ecosystem. All are equally important.

To determine the ongoing and future needs of Missouri's forests, the Missouri Department of Conservation has undertaken a massive project that will offer valuable data in a long-term, top-to-bottom study of the Ozark forest resource. The Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project (MOFEP) will provide the foundation to decide the best ways to satisfy demands for wood products while ensuring the survival of healthy forest ecosystems.

The Seed Is Planted: 1988

MOFEP's inception was the result of a conversation between a Missouri Department of Conservation research biologist and a University of Missouri professor who wanted to know what effect Missouri forest management was having on songbird populations locally and internationally. They talked with another Department research biologist, presenting their idea, and the seed for the project was planted.

The three scientists decided they needed assistance to further develop the project, and presented it to research biologists in the Department of Conservation's Wildlife Division. In turn, Wildlife Division scientists asked for assistance from Forestry Division's newly formed research section. The Wildlife and Forestry divisions agreed to work together on the project with the help of the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project was born.

Ozark Forest

The Seed Sprouts: 1990

MOFEP scientists' first challenge was to find enough land to accommodate the project. The tracts had to be spacious, and had to be made up entirely of areas that hadn't been logged in at least 20 years. The answer came from the heavily forested Ozarks. As a result, 9,200 acres of state forest land are now divided into nine areas called compartments - ranging from 650 to 1,300 acres in size. Each compartment will receive one of three kinds of forest management: even-aged management, uneven-aged management and a "control" group. The management treatments were randomly assigned to avoid any bias in the study.

Map of MOFEP Sites

Three of the compartments will receive a series of regeneration cuts, which are part of the even-aged management system. This management method results in groups, or stands, of trees of roughly the same size and age growing together, Missouri regeneration cuts produce stands about two to 25 acres in size.

Cuts are made on rotation schedule in which roughly 10 percent of each compartment will be cut every ten years or so, and will not be cut, again during the study. Another 10 percent of these compartments will be set aside as old growth, which means these areas will never be cut.

An uneven-aged management system will be used for three other compartments. This is a selective harvest that cuts only certain trees, resulting in a forest with different ages and sizes of trees. Again, selective cuts will be conducted about every ten years. As with even-aged management this system will designate about 10 percent of the compartment as "old growth." Except for the old growth area, all compartment forests will have regenerated by the end of the project.

The three remaining compartments will act as control groups. These compartments will be left alone to mature as they naturally would without cutting or harvesting. As with any forest, these control areas will change too. However, the changes will not be influenced by cutting as with the other treatments.

The Seedling Grows: 1990-1995

Prior to cutting, MOFEP scientists are gathering pre-treatment information on the land. This information comes from research into forest vegetation, songbirds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and the insects and invertebrates that make up this ecosystem.

In all, scientists are currently conducting 12 far-reaching studies on MOFEP sites, and new studies will be added throughout the life of the project. The entire project is now on a 100-year schedule. This does not mean, however, that researchers will wait a full century to report important information. Data that has already been collected on MOFEP is being analyzed. This long-term project provides a unique opportunity to view the responses of complex forest ecosystems to current forest management practices.

The Tree Blooms: 1995-2005

MOFEP is a tremendous undertaking by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and a large number of studies on various elements of forest ecosystems are part of the overall project, including:

The Acorn Forms: 2005-2015

There were a number of significant events impacting MOFEP during its second decade after initiating harvest treatments. A second harvest entry occurred in the fall and winter of 2011-2012, which brought MOFEP's six harvest-treated sites one step closer to full implementation of active management systems. Data collection of core MOFEP studies (i.e., those that are vital to the larger project) was conducted immediately before and after this second harvest. This field research effort added nearly a decade of data to MOFEP's long-term datasets. In May of 2009, a severe wind storm called a Derecho caused substantial blowdown of timber in the Missouri Ozarks. Luckily this event produced only minor blowdown on MOFEP sites, some of which was salvaged by MDC. Since its inception, MOFEP scientists have published their research findings in science journals, book chapters, and a variety of other outlets. Over 70 papers covering a wide range of ecological research on MOFEP have been published as of 2015.

MOFEP sustained a tremendous loss with the passing of Randy Jensen in the spring of 2015. Randy's contributions to MOFEP over the first quarter century of the project are innumerable. Most notably, Randy supervised the installation and periodic re-measurements of nearly 650 permanent vegetation plots, helped coordinate both experimental harvests (1996-97 and 2011-12), and served a critical role on the MOFEP Steering Committee. Randy excelled at using MOFEP as a platform for collaborative research with scientists from local universities and the U.S. Forest Service. In many ways, MOFEP is his legacy.

The Tree's Future: 2095 and Beyond

Forest in the Fall

What began as a single idea has grown into the largest and potentially the longest project of its kind in North America. Researchers participating in the study include scientists from the Missouri Department of Conservation, The University of Missouri-Columbia, The University of Missouri-St. Louis, Southeast Missouri State University and the U. S. Forest Service.

The scientists who created MOFEP probably won't live long enough to see the project's completion. Nevertheless, They know their idea is breaking new ground by providing information on the interaction of different components of forest ecosystems. This could prove to be invaluable in the future for issues such as gypsy moth infestation, global warming and biodiversity.

Even in its first stages, information gathered from the project already has proven valuable to programs worldwide. MOFEP scientists must continue to be flexible enough to address the problems of today, while predicting how results will impact future generations tomorrow.

Published by the
Missouri Department of Conservation
Robert L. Ziehmer, Director

The Missouri Department of Conservation uses Federal financial assistance in Sport Fish and/or Wildlife Restoration. Because the state utilizes these federal funds, it must comply with federal anti-discrimination law. Under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the federal government prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age or sex. If you believe that you have been discriminated against in any program, activity of facility as described above, or if you desire further information please write to:

The Office for Human Resources
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 20240
Missouri Department of Conservation
Resource Science Division
3500 E Gans Rd.
Columbia, MO 65201

Copyright © 1998-2016 Missouri Department of Conservation