Forestry Field Day

Getting started

Forestry Field Day

By Heather

Greyish white clouds blanketed the sky as we entered the Burr Oak Conservation area. It was humid and rain was not in the forecast. Paul Whitsell, Resource Forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and some fellow classmates were already there, gathered around his conservation truck, picking up packets of information and signing in. We gathered our small backpacks with the Fifty Common Trees book issued to the class, pencils, water and of course, my camera. I was a bit surprised I was the only one who brought one. 

This was my first trip out to this area. It was enjoyable getting away from the city. At some of the locations I have spent time, like in Parkville or Smithville Lake, there is still an overwhelming presence of human life. Granted, we did meet others on the trailheads and trails at Burr Oaks but as we drove to the area and got closer, there were no houses to block our views, not many vehicles speeding around us; only green woods and fields surround the car.

Example of Feathering

At around 8:30 am Whitsell started to give us our day’s agenda. First we were to start in the meeting area discussing tree identification. Then we were to start walking to the trails across from our meeting point. Along the way we discussed several of the trees and their common identifiers. As we crossed the road and headed to the trailhead we discussed some of the forestry work he has been doing to create one of the prairies.

Whitsell showed us an example of feathering between prairies and other areas such as roads, trails or woods. Feathering is when native grasses and wildflowers grow creating a transition between one type of an area to another. This provides a type of boundary for native wildlife to hide from predators, create homes, or have food. It is quite lovely with wildflowers dotting the swath of tall native prairie grasses. Only one of the flowers was recognizable to me, the Queen Anne’s Lace. I am still adjusting to Missouri’s flora types. I am hoping through my MMN certification I will be able to learn a bit more.

As soon as we entered the trail from the prairie area the smell was quite recognizable. The forest on a damp day, the rich soil smell; yet at the same time it smells clean, natural, like nothing you smell in town. The aroma is devoid of exhaust, trash or hot black top. As we hiked along the trail we continued our discussion of tree identification. Whitsell also talked about the importance of tree maintenance along public trails. He showed us what we should be looking for such as dead trees and limbs to keep trails safe for public use.

Walk and talk

There are reasons proper tree and invasive species identification is necessary. One of the forestry management purposes is to…wait for it…manage. Sounds simple enough but what they do is a balancing act. The forester has to consider different factors such as wildlife, what areas should be where, how many of these specific areas are necessary for wildlife, how many trees to take down and what type of plan to derive to accomplish their main goals. For example, wildlife, when the forester cuts down trees they leave the branches and leaves on the ground for the wildlife to use. Feathering between transition areas is also something the forester creates and must keep in mind.

Trailhead sign TSI

When we first started the class I was a bit apprehensive about cutting trees down and using chemicals to eradicate vegetation which cannot be eliminated by other means. I have a clearer understanding of why it is necessary. We have meddled so much within our habitat we now have to continue to find ways to create a balance. This is what forestry does, or tries to do with the best of their abilities and knowledge.

Single Selection Harvest Sign

Foresters have to first and foremost create a plan for tree selection. First they need to determine what it is they want to accomplish within a specified area. Whitsell had an exercise for our class which helped us better understand their tree selection process or what they call a forest inventory. He demonstrated the use of a prism which shows which trees are inside 1/10th of an acre. First there is a post in the center of each 1/10th acre plot. A 1/10th acre plot extends 37.5 feet from the post located at the center point of each plot.  The person with the prism stands next to the center post, closes one eye, holds up the prism and scans over the trees. The trees will appear broken or will look like a chunk of the tree is missing. If the piece looks removed but is still touching the tree while peering through the prism it is within the 1/10th acre plot and will be counted. If the section of the tree is not touching it is either too small or is outside of the 1/10th acre. If it is difficult to tell whether it is in or out of the plot these are considered boundary trees and the forester will count every other tree being in the plot. This process is repeated while working in a circular motion around the plot. At each tree within the plot we had to give a rating for the tree chosen from several options. We also had to determine what the plan is for the tree and the diameter of the tree.


The diameter is determined by using a Doyle stick. To use this measuring device, which closely resembles a yard stick but has a greater thickness, you measure 4.5 feet from the highest ground side of the tree. Then you use the stick to measure 25 inches between you and the tree at the 4.5 foot height. Then place the stick parallel to the ground, at the proper height and distance. Closing one eye, line up the edge of the stick to one side of the tree and then gauge the lines on the other side of the stick. Round up or down to whole numbers depending upon where the line of the stick shows the edge of the tree. I could not find a link on the Missouri Department of Conservation website so here is another link that helps to explain this process in a little more depth.

By the time we finished the exercise and reconvened at the picnic tables the clouds started to dissipate and the temperature began to rise. Whitsell did mention earlier in the day there were two other hands-on projects we would be assisting with today. We set off on another trail. As we walked we had to be a bit cautious due to the large stones on the path. We walked down a hill, over a creek then back up a hill. Grandmother’s house was nowhere to be found. As we continued down the trail we came to a clearing. Whitsell asked for volunteers to mark areas with long stakes for mowing or actually mark areas not to mow. About 5-6 stayed there and the rest continued down the trail to help remove cypress trees. I stayed behind and took pictures of the work.

After a few minutes and some colorful conversation I continued on my way to the group working on the tree removal, I heard a screech. I already knew it was a hawk, red tail to be exact. It circled in the distance more than likely eyeing up an afternoon meal. It must have been photo shy; it never circled near me for a close up shot. I took my time and noticed all the spiders in the grass. Thumb size carrying egg sacks. Not a huge fan of spiders so I continued on to notice an array of butterflies and other insects. Turkeys must have passed through earlier in the day. Their large tail feathers were dropped about like a trail of breadcrumbs but not alluding to which direction they went; turkey tracks were not visible due to the grass on the pathway. Tall grass jutted out, some crowned with purple. I have never seen purple grass before.

Cutting 2
Chemical on tree

After I reached the group they were already busy using hand saws to remove the cypress trees. Whitsell has been trying to create an area with oak trees and needs to remove the cypress trees so the young oaks can have enough light to grow. To ensure the trees do not grow back they use a special chemical sprayed directly onto the cut trunk. I was never overly fond of the use of chemicals anywhere. But I have learned to understand the necessity of them when it comes to forestry. The group worked diligently for about 45 minutes then followed the trail back. I narrated to my husband during the return trip about what I saw and where. Pointing out the turkey feather breadcrumbs and searched the sky for the hawk in hopes of maybe getting a photo op, I did not.


It was definitely a long day. We walked approximately five miles. I enjoyed my time hiking the trails and getting a hands on look at what the Missouri Department of Conservation Forestry division does. Their purpose is clear, once you spend time in the classroom and in the field you get a better understanding. Their hard work is displayed within these conservation areas and their use is demonstrated in how the plant and animals respond to the habitat. I encourage all to learn and understand what the Forestry Division does and how they perform these goals.

The photos included vary from different life we saw during the day, different information signs found on the trail, tools used in a tree inventory and pictures of the work performed at the end of the day.

Purple top grass, Queen Anne’s Lace, Turkey Tail Fungus:

Purple grass
Queen Annes Lace

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