MANHATTAN, Kan. - Each time Bob Atchison sees kids playing in a park, a family having a picnic, or an American bald eagle building a nest in a tall Kansas cottonwood, he tends to get more passionate about his job.
As the rural forestry coordinator for the Kansas Forest Service, Atchison has a broad perspective toward the state's 5.2 million acres of forest land.
"Healthy forests, woodlands and windbreaks are as important to our national infrastructure as roads and bridges," Atchison said. "The jobs and products they produce are worth protecting."
In Kansas, 95 percent of forest land is privately owned. It's why Atchison and others connected to the state's forest service spent much of the past three years drafting an action plan to help educate families, and support them in protecting this natural resource.
The Kansas Forest Action Plan is part of an effort headed by the National Association of State Foresters and the U.S. Forest Service to manage and maintain the country's 423 million acres of private forests, and 100 million acres of urban forests.
Atchison noted that there are three types of forests in Kansas: agroforests that include windbreaks and streamside trees that surround croplands; community or urban forests that line main streets, parks and yards in local communities; and the rural forests and woodlands located primarily in the eastern third of Kansas.
These forests are crucial for everyday life, he said, because trees and other woodlands can filter air and water, making them safer for humans. But they also contribute to quality of life because they provide recreational opportunities and even a nice place to relax in the shade.
Plus, it is estimated that forestry-related businesses contribute $1.3 billion to the state's economy, and support more than 6,700 jobs.
"Kansas forests provide important economic and environmental benefits to the people of the state," Atchison said.
The Kansas Forest Action Plan was finalized in early 2013 and is now being implemented. It identifies threats to Kansas forests and will help state officials target resources efficiently, "especially in these tough economic times," Atchison said.
Those threats include pests such as emerald ash borer; thousand cankers disease of black walnut; pine wilt; and exotic invasive plants like tamarisk, Russian olive and Amur honeysuckle that threaten the health of woodlands and wildlife.
"If we don't act soon to protect our forests, woodlands and windbreaks in Kansas, they could be damaged forever," Atchison said.
The plan can be accessed online at www.kansasforests.org/about/about.shtml. More information also is available by contacting the Kansas Forest Service at 785-532-3300.