Eric Sprague, Director of Forest Conservation
RECENTLY, AMERICAN FORESTS STAFF traveled to the Ozarks in Missouri to meet with our friends at Independent Stave Company (ISCO) to discuss our partnership to sustain a critical benefit provided by forests: wood products. Specifically, high-quality white oak that is used to produce whiskey and wine barrels.
We observed how the proportion of oak seedlings found on the forest floor has rapidly declined — a problem not only facing the hardwood forests of Missouri, but those across the entire eastern U.S. The forest composition has changed because of a variety of factors including, most importantly, a lack of natural and low-intensity wildfires.
The next day, we ventured to a state-owned conservation area, where a master logger was taking down trees damaged by a tornado. We witnessed a white oak come down, and one of my colleagues said, “The sawdust smells like bourbon!” The logger replied, “No, bourbon tastes like oak!”
ISCO then hosted us for tours of their sawmill and cooperage, which were amazing sights to see. The company values sustainability and uses every inch of the logs they take. The staff is passionate about what they do and the barrels they produce are top-notch.
The shortage of small oaks across the eastern U.S. portends a large reduction in high-quality oak in the future. Given that it takes decades for oaks to mature, American Forests, Independent Stave Company and other partners are restoring this important resource.