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Leo's legacy.

The sign on the door says "Pioneer Forest," but the door is on the ninth floor of a building in the urban wilds of downtown St. Louis. Leo Drey, the craggy-faced proprietor of Pioneer Forest and the largest private landowner in Missouri, sits at his desk and tries not to look like the millionaire that he is. He succeeds.

Leo Drey (pronounced Dry) may be the only millionaire in America who answers his own phone, albeit gruffly, types his own letters on a manual typewriter, and rides the bus to work.

What Drey likes to lavish his money on is open, uncluttered, and soul-satisfying land. He has acquired and preserved 160,000 acres of woodland in the Missouri Ozarks, plus another 3,300 acres that he leases for $1 a year to the State of Missouri as nine park sites and natural areas.

Drey manages his land conservatively, with an emphasis on preservation and low-density recreation as well as "selective" logging; he forbids clearcutting on his Pioneer Forest.

"I feel a sense of obligation to future generations to leave the land in better shape than I found it," he says. "I have a quote at home that says, This is my garden, the landowner said, and his gardener smiled.' "

The purchase that made Drey the state's largest individual landholder came in 1954. "I was out with a fire crew on state land one night, building fire lines, and the guy next to me asked if I knew that National Distillers was changing its cutting policy."

The liquor firm had previously managed its 89,900acre Ozark tract carefully, cutting selected stands of white oak for barrel staves. "But now they were going to cut it all and liquidate their investment," Drey remembers.

He hightailed it to New York and parleyed with a National Distillers executive. Drey got the land, and Pioneer Forest became a formidable swatch of the map of Missouri.

Like many wealthy people, Drey contributes generously to environmental causes; unlike most, he also gives his time. A founder of the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region, he led a fight for more city parks, headed a group called the Coalition for the Environment, and served on the boards of a number of conservation organizations.

Several years ago he tangled with the National Park Service and lost, a setback that still rankles. The Park Service wanted to manage the Current and jacks Fork rivers as scenic waterways. Drey, who owned 35 miles of riverbank land, feared that Park Service promotion would crowd the backcountry rivers with visitors.

The Current River fight struck at the heart of Drey's vision of preserving the natural splendor of the Ozarks. "On summer weekends now it's like a city park, with camper trucks and day floaters and tubers-that's the new thing. Hell, you can't even skinny-dip in the streams anymore because there are a dozen canoes around every corner. "

Drey felt vindicated later when many of the principles he advocated were included in the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Missouri is lucky. Every state should have a Leo Drey.
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Title Annotation:Profiles of people who make a difference for trees and forests; Leo Drey
Author:Jackson, Donald Dale
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:The Forest and the Trees: A Guide to Excellent Forestry.
Next Article:Environment, economics, and forestry's future.

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