“I’m out planting a forest. Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you before it matures.” 1

This humorous voicemail message belonged to Leo Drey (pronounced Dry), a former Missouri conservationist and significant landowner who dedicated his life to responsible forest management. In 1953, he did next to the impossible as a solitary private landowner: he purchased 90,000 acres of forest from a New York distilling company. It took half a year to work out the deal.

From there, with the guidance of forestry experts, Drey’s mission was to change the way timber was harvested. Drey and his group knew there had to be an alternative to clear-cutting trees. They also knew forests could be both beneficial to necessary commercial interests and to the stewardship of the land. They investigated and put into place a method of thinning trees in a way that would encourage future growth of the forest, not its demise.

Leo Drey. Photos by St. Louis Post Dispatch, left, St. Louis Public Radio, right.

With many thanks to Drey, over the years wood harvesting practices have changed through selective logging, which has resulted in far less clear-cutting and also led to thicker, growing forests. This method has made a significant impact on forests and natural resources in the Ozarks, where Real Wood Floors is headquartered. Ever the conservationist, Drey eventually ensured that the lands he purchased would become state parks and historic sites. Some of these include Greer Spring, Dripping Springs, and Grand Gulf, in Missouri.

Sustainable forestry cycle.

Photo from ForestsAndFish.com

Drey incorporated selective harvesting; however, this is a term that does not denote the same practice everywhere. Certainly, on the surface, selective harvesting (or selective logging) sounds good. It implies landowners won’t lose all their trees, and they will be able to sell some mature ones while leaving a good remaining stand of oak, maple, or pine, for instance. Yet, proper selective harvesting is not in fact cutting the large salable trees and leaving only small ones in the saw’s wake, with the hope that the young trees will thrive in these new conditions. The proper method is about a sustainable forestry cycle.

An intentional process with a forestry or conservation professional ensures that landowners understand which trees need to continue to grow. A first harvest often includes identifying trees that are suppressed and can be thinned out, while the highly valued trees can grow to fruition. For example, in the Ozarks, if you have a less healthy species of walnut or cherry, these can be cut to allow the expansion of white oaks and maple.

Through proper selective harvesting, forests grow and habitat thrives.

Chart from AmericanHardwood.org

The 2008 Farm Bill required that each state in the US create an action plan in order to be accountable for sustainable forestry practices. Using US Forest Service data, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) created an interactive forest map to provide relevant information regarding hardwood species’ growth and removal. In the above graphic, the growth of trees is double that of removals, with a net growth of 4,626 cubic meters in 2019. Thus, timber companies are only harvesting approximately half of what is grown.

Through these sustainable practices, forests can grow denser. New-growth species have more access to sunshine and rain that may have been denied under a larger forest canopy. Logging, a huge threat to wildlife, can be lessened, which has a rippling effect and allows deer, fox, raccoon, and many species of flora and fauna to thrive in an undisturbed habitat.

Go see the results for yourself.

Photo from Osprey.com

Want to see how selective harvesting works? Take a stroll on private land or in a state park. If you walk in the woods of a hardwood forest, you will see trees of all different sizes, including mature ones that have dropped their seeds and are surrounded by saplings.

By selective harvesting, and sometimes by the hand of mother nature from storms, some of the largest trees are taken out, which leaves young ones in the wake. The absence of large trees opens up the forest floor where juvenile ones can grow into their dominance.

One of the beauties of walking through a hardwood forest is seeing the life cycle of trees at every stage. You can see the emergent saplings barely a year old. If you notice a tree’s diameter about one inch thick, then you are looking at a two- to five-year-old tree. If you see one with a ten-inch diameter, you are looking at a teenage tree. By paying close attention, you are able to see the cycle through time.

With that continuation of life, there is an energy in the forest, where large trees seed the forest, create growth and provide shelter for animals. The trees create an environment for the undergrowth through their canopy. Both state-owned and private hardwood forests managed in the appropriate way allow for continual growth, which would make Drey quite proud.

Wood flooring in your home.

We encourage you to get out in the woods and appreciate the life of the forest. If we work in harmony with hardwood forests, we can have more than enough raw materials for our homes and lives, while sustaining the beauty of the ecosystem.

If you’d like to purchase a wood floor or order samples, please contact us today through our website or by phone, 877.215.1831.


1. Leo Drey dies; Missouri’s largest private landowner until he gave it all away. St. Louis Today. 28 – May 2015.