Missouri’s Largest Private Landowner Saw the Forest Through the Trees
by Carmen Schwartz
Leo Drey is an interesting character when it comes to the list of largest private landowners in the United States. Most agree that he is a pillar of strength; which seems poignant, considering he is all about saving and rejuvenating the strong, solid timberlands of Missouri.
There is a story told that Leo Drey’s answering machine speaks: “I’m out planting a forest. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll try to get back to you before it matures.” In other words? The Great Outdoors and his mission to constantly work for the forest will always be the first thought on his mind.
It was 1917 when Leo A. Drey came into the world in St. Louis; and over time he became Missouri’s prominent timber magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist. Coming from the background of manufacturing (his father was a very wealthy manufacturer of glassware), Mr. Drey began what was to become his main goal in life in 1951. This is when his focus landed on the acquisition of timberland in the Missouri Ozarks, which he would use for reforestation and conservation projects.
Holdings rose to approximately 160,000 acres, making him the largest private landholder in the state – with more acres than Missouri’s entire park system. Pioneer Forest, which was the initial project for his reforestation and conservation goals, is a commercial forest managed in the public interest. Operated with harvesting techniques referred to as single-tree selection, U.S. Pioneer Forest is one of the most lush, vibrant areas in the country.
At the core of the Missouri Ozarks, the diversity of oak, hickory and pine make for magnificent scenery. And by utilizing the single-tree selection harvesting technique, this land has maintained its vibrancy – a sustainable forest that provides for everyone.
Over the years, Pioneer Forest has restored more than 153,000 acres of Ozark woodlands across six Missouri counties, and Leo Drey can be thanked for that. It was he and he alone who made forest owners and managers stop and think. He challenged them to look at the future when it came to the best way to manage and protect forests so both public and industry could benefit from the health and wealth of the land. He had the knowledge that all of these forested areas could be extremely productive if only they were managed well, using the far more conservative harvesting technique. Mr. Drey wished to prove that by doing things his way, the structure of the forest would remain the same – or be even more beneficial than it already was.
With the long-range objective for Pioneer Forest still in place – to develop and manage native tree species of large diameter, while also providing recreational and ecosystem benefits – Leo Drey has literally shown that his idea was more than bountiful.
The L-A-D Foundation was begun so that Mr. Drey could offer even more help when it came to maintaining and protecting various other natural areas in Missouri. Offering a chance for all citizens to enjoy the beautiful areas, he leased many acres to the state park system for only one dollar per year.
Ensuring that the forests will continually be managed through environmentally sound and sustainable practices is Leo Drey’s ultimate success. His ideals should be duplicated across the country, seeing as that he illustrated the very real fact that the future doesn’t need to leave the past behind in order to be successful.
Drey, himself, always commented about the people and the area he seems to love, offering sheer respect for the citizens of the Ozarks. He admired the fact that they had consistently managed to make a living from those hills through hard work.
Before Leo Drey came along, people had used the area in more wrong ways than could be counted, bringing detriment to the land. But with his hard work, people finally began to realize the actual value of all that stood around them.
His love of the land is easily seen. When people think about Leo Drey, they may remember the hugely-publicized purchase of Greer Spring in Oregon County. (Greer is the second largest spring in Missouri.) There was a great deal of talk when it came to commercial development in that area. Drey looked at the competition who would, if they won the land, mess it up in more ways than one, and came in with an offer, got the property and then immediately gave it to the U.S. Forest Service. Talk about a bargain.
The list of what this man has done and the land he’s protected is vast. Being born in the city that plays home to the Gateway Arch, a monument that stands for the westward expansion of the United States, seems fitting for Leo Drey. After all, his incredible work is all about expanding the minds of others. He saw the wealth of the forest through the commercial-building trees, and has fought for many years to keep the most valuable resource we have intact and thriving.
Source: Baret News Wire