Shaw Nature Preserve focuses on forest management to maintain healthy ecosystems

GRAY SUMMIT, Mo. – March 21 is the International Day of Forests, a day to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests around the world for the benefit of current and future generations.

At Shaw Nature Reserve, a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden, they work daily to manage their 2,400 acres to maximize native biodiversity so that future generations can continue to enjoy and appreciate the world’s natural beauty.

“We think a lot in terms of ecosystem health and we define ecosystem health by the biodiversity of native health,” said Mike Saxton, head of ecological restoration and land stewardship at Shaw. Nature Reserve. “So the more diverse our plants are, the more diverse our insects will be and, by extension, the more diverse your birds will be, etc.”

At Shaw Nature Reserve they have many different types of forests.

“The Meramec River runs through the site, so we have a kind of floodplain forests,” Saxton said. “We have uplands, old hickory forests and everything else.”

And the management of these forests is essential.

“We can’t just put a fence around it and let nature take its course for different reasons. The first is that we have a great abundance of non-native invasive plants,” Saxton said.

“Most invasive species are considered invasive because they actually change soil chemistry and some of the other interactions around them. Generally at the expense of all other species, especially our natives,” said Calvin Maginel, ecological resource scientist at Shaw Nature Reserve.

They also use fire as a tool burning down most of their forest communities every three to four years.

“All of our different woodlands, from our upland forests to our lowland forests, have all evolved with the natural element of fire. So we have to go in and actively set fire to the landscape in order to maintain the health of this ecosystem,” Saxton said.

The main goal is to maximize the amount of light that reaches the understory. Lack of light is a major limiting factor for plant biodiversity.

“You can look around the woods and there may be ten different species of trees, but there may be 100 species of plants on the forest floor,” Saxton said.

Homeowners can also help bring back more biodiversity by removing invasive species like honeysuckle and privet.

“Even the simple act of removing them. You’ll see a lot of native stuff coming back. They are still in the ground. There is still time,” Maginel said. “So there’s still that window in our fight against these invasive species to actually help control them and bring back some of these native plants.”

Managing these invasive species is crucial so that future generations can enjoy our native forests.

“If they’re overrun and nobody’s there to do the work to stop them from continuing to be overrun, we lose those gems. And at a minimum, that would just be sad. But there’s probably a lot of other consequences ecological ones that we don’t even understand,” Maginel said.