Oklahoma’s 12.5 million acres of forestlands are among the most diverse in the nation; ranging from the dense pine and hardwood stands of eastern Oklahoma, through the unique Cross Timbers of the central counties, to the riparian forests of our western rivers. This diversity of Oklahoma’s landscape presents many natural resource management challenges. The fact that over 90 percent of Oklahoma’s forestlands are privately owned presents the additional challenge for Oklahoma Forestry Services of working with thousands of landowners to deal with threats from insects and disease, urbanization, invasive species and wildfire. It is extremely important that Oklahomans work together to conserve, enhance and protect our forests and the Forest Action Plan provides a foundation for this. Oklahoma’s Forest Action Plan provides a comprehensive overview of the state’s forest resources, the critical issues facing our forests and long-term strategies to address priority forestlands.
Maintaining benefits from Oklahoma’s rural and community forestlands
Our state’s varied forest and woodland ecosystems require specific conservation and management strategies. For example, the forest industry in southeastern Oklahoma contributes $4.9 billion to the state economy annually. These forests and woodlands also provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities valued by both individuals and communities.
Another example is the underappreciated post oak – blackjack oak forest type commonly known as Cross Timbers which is a large woodland area extending from north central Texas through Oklahoma into south Kansas and east Arkansas.. Because this forest type is essentially noncommercial for timber production, it has never experienced large scale industrial logging, but provides many other ecosystem services critical to the area such as improved water quality. This ecotype is experiencing intense conversion pressure from urban development, which is leading to fragmentation and threatening forest health by making management difficult. Research in the Cross Timbers is limited, and our failure to understand these “ancient” forests is contributing to their ongoing destruction and fragmentation.
Reducing threats to Oklahoma’s forestlands from wildfires, invasive species and forest pests
In addition to lives and property, Oklahoma wildfires threaten the forests and consequently the many benefits they provide. Proper land management can drastically decrease the risk of loss in the event of a wildfire. While prescribed fire is one example of a management tool that can be utilized, many people do not realize the benefits of fire on ecosystems.
Additionally, with the increasing number of people moving to the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) risks for catastrophic wildfire damage also increase. Research tells us that most of these people are unaware of their increased wildfire risks.
Continued work to educate the public (which includes property owners, land managers, city planners, etc.) on wildfire risk mitigation and defensible space practices is needed.
Improving the health and productivity of Oklahoma’s forest resources
Forests provide sustainable supplies of clean water to the majority of our citizens. Maintaining healthy forest watersheds and riparian forests in rural areas and protecting forest cover in developing areas are essential to ensuring safe and available water. Climate variability, increased drought frequency and changes in precipitation patterns demand increased awareness and better management of our forest resources to - protect drinking water sources, sustain stream flows, protect aquatic wildlife species and reduce sedimentation and water treatment costs.