Climate Change in Rural Forested Areas

Realized and Potential Challenges

Many of the predominantly forested counties in Missouri are composed of isolated rural communities that lack access to basic resources, such as medical care. Many of these communities are supported by the tourism industry, but scenic waterways may be threatened by extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. For instance, spring 2019 flooding caused many Ozark rivers to be inaccessible for canoeing and kayaking, and also flooded several public and private campgrounds. The Mark Twain National Forest, state conservation areas and parks, and private forested land may be able to capture and store atmospheric carbon with improved management strategies; however, one of Missouri’s greatest challenges in forested areas is to preserve private forest lands. Further, climate change is likely to shift species distributions of trees in Missouri and potentially exacerbate insect damage to forests.

Ongoing Adaptation and Mitigation Efforts

In the 2020 Missouri forest Resource Fact Sheet, the U.S. Forest Service classifies climate change as a key issue for Missouri’s forests. The Missouri Department of Conservation oversees Missouri’s Forest Action Plan, which contains goals and strategies for addressing the impacts of climate change on Missouri’s forests, but also for utilizing forests for climate change mitigation. Forest management research initiatives are typically a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, University of Missouri, and Missouri Department of Conservation. The Forest Action Plan also identifies strategies for robust engagement with and educational resources for private landowners. The Nature Conservancy in Missouri is working on forest conservation in select watersheds to increase carbon storage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list a suite of potential health hazards caused or exacerbated by climate change. Hazards, such as allergens, diseases carried by insect vectors, and temperature extremes, could be especially harmful in the forested Ozarks region of Missouri. The Rural Ozarks Health Initiative was launched by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the Missouri Foundation for Health in 2018 to address some of these worsening community health issues. Further, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Division of Tourism work to secure economic resources associated with eco-tourism in the Ozarks.