Stop 2. History: The Decline of Shortleaf Pine - Oak Fire Science

The pines on Bennett Road at our history stop germinated right after the timber boom. For decades they were crowded among oaks and hickories, but prescribed fire and thinning have allowed them to grow, and now this area resembles the landscape before the boom.

In our Stop 2 podcast, fire researcher Michael Stambaugh tells how fire shaped the Ozark landscape. Historian Susan Flader describes giant sawmills and new railroads during the early 1900s timber boom, which made a dramatic, long-lasting impact. Tim Perren leads us through the tour site.

If you can’t be on site when you listen to the podcast, put yourself there in your mind by scrolling through the photos below. Be sure to enlarge and read the sign, too.

The sawmill at Grandin, Mo., was the largest in the world when it operated around 1900. Centered in the Current River Pinery, it fed the timber boom and dramatically altered the surrounding landscape. (Time code 0:00 – 0:32)

Trees are close together in this typical Ozark forest, which is predominantly oak, hickory, and other hardwoods, with shortleaf pine mixed in. (Time code 1:20-1:33)

The scene at our tour’s history stop on Bennett Road is different from typical Ozark woods. The trees are widely spaced, and pines dominate. (Time code 1:35 – 1:54)

Before settlement, the Ozark landscape was mostly open woodland, with open ridgetops that were almost prairie-like. Some 350 species of plants grew among widely space pines and oaks, and they supported countless songbirds and grazing animals like deer and elk. Photo: Mo. Dept. of Conservation (Time code 2:00 – 2:40)

Six million acres of shortleaf pine covered portions of the Ozarks prior to settlement. (Time code 2:40 – 2:51)

Past wildfires records are written into tree trunks, showing up as fire scars, which can be dated. Researchers have found that fires occurred on average every 8-15 years throughout the Current River watershed. Photo: Michael Stambaugh. (Time code 3:26 – 5:16)

Native Americans burned the landscape for many purposes, such as to improve forage for livestock and hunted animals, and to promote growth of berries and materials to make things. (Time code 5:16 – 5:30)

A timber boom began in the Ozarks after railroads were built that could transport the pine, which was valued for building materials, and oak, which was sought for railroad ties. (Time code 5:30 – 7:00)

The high point for the sawmill at Grandin was 1899, when it employed 1500 people and every day it milled lumber from an equivalent of 70 acres of shortleaf pine trees. (Time code 7:00 – 7:33)

Workers cut the timber with crosscut saws and hauled it to the railroad tram lines with mules. But the timber boom was short-lived, and it was over by about 1920. (Time code 7:33 – 8:02)

After the timber boom, the logged land was devastated, and Missouri entered into a long period of resource degradation. Life was difficult for those remaining. An important lesson learned was that this was how NOT to treat the land. (Time code 8:03 – 9:20)

Conservationists, in an effort to allow forest to grow again, successfully discouraged the age-old practice of burning the woods. This had unintended consequences. Thick hardwood forests grew, and plants increased that thrive under no fire. Shortleaf pine woodlands and their dependent plants and animals became rare. (Time code 9:21 -10:39)

Prescribe fire can help restore biodiversity to woodlands. (Time code 10:41 – 11:09)

These pines at our tour’s history stop germinated between 1915 and 1925, right at the end of the timber boom. For decades they were crowded  among hardwoods, but after 2004, thinning and prescribed fires have brought them much closer to historical conditions. (Time code 11:11 – 11:47)



Stop 2. History: The Decline of Shortleaf Pine

  • Project partners: Oak Woodlands and Forests Fire Consortium, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, and the Joint Fire Science Program.
  • Podcast series producer and narrator: Denise Henderson Vaughn, Mountain View, Mo.
  • Podcast series theme music: Van Colbert, Willow Springs, Mo., on banjo.
  • Stop 2 podcast interviewees:
    • Michael Stambaugh, Associate Research Professor, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
    • Susan Flader, Professor Emerita, American Environmental History, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
    • Tim Perren, Fuels Specialist, USDA Forest Service, Doniphan, Mo.
  • Stop 2 field recordings: Sawing-wood, Tree-fall, Steam-train, and Steam-train-whistle, by Daniel Simon,; all others by Vaughn.
  • Stop 2 website photos and maps:  Historical photos: State Historical Society of Missouri, others by Vaughn, except as noted in captions.

Take the Current River Pinery tour in person! Here’s how and where. For a printable map and directions, click here.

Back to top