Forestry in the Hawkeye State

Credit: Bruce Blair, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Forestry Bureau

Iowa has a population of over 3 million people and slightly over 3 million acres of woodlands. The care and stewardship of Iowa’s forest resource is critical to providing forest related jobs, forest products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, recreation, energy savings, community cohesiveness and quality water.

Early settlers saw trees as commodities to be used or as impediments to agriculture. Of the 6.7 million acres of forests in Iowa in 1850, nearly two-thirds, more than 4 million acres, had been lost to clearing, grazing, logging, or fuelwood cutting by 1900. The destruction continued with intensive crop and livestock farming. By 1974, only 1.5 million acres of woodlands remained in Iowa. Since then, Iowa's forests have rebounded to about 3 million acres, due to less grazing and more trees being planted. Some cities have even developed forest-like canopies.

Iowa's trees and forests are not just in public parks. With more than 92 percent of the state's woodlands in private hands, individual decisions shape the forests and will continue to do so into the future. People who own woods for hunting or other hobbies may manage the forest very differently than did the farmers who used the timber for grazing or firewood cutting. Iowa is a farm state, but farm fields don’t preclude forests. People like trees, and they are welcoming their return to diverse green space.