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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Management of Mark Twain National Forest questioned

  • The U.S. Forest Service has responded to a letter signed by six members of Missouri's Congressional delegation, including Eighth District Rep. Jason Smith, regarding their concerns over management of the Mark Twain National Forest.
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  • The U.S. Forest Service has responded to a letter signed by six members of Missouri's Congressional delegation, including Eighth District Rep. Jason Smith, regarding their concerns over management of the Mark Twain National Forest.
    The letter dated Aug. 2 states that the Congressional representatives believe that the forest can provide "great environmental and economic benefits" to the state but worry that more trees are dying than being harvested.
    The letter, signed by Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Sam Graves, Billy Long, Vicky Hartzler and Ann Wagner, as well as Smith, states that 50 million board feet (volume) of timber, with an estimated value of $4.75 million, dies each year, while alternatively, 38 million board feet, with an estimated value of $4.37 million, is harvested.
    "With annual mortality rates in excess of annual harvest rates, the Mark Twain (forest) is facing a potentially catastrophic situation. In order to reverse this alarming trend, we urge you to utilize harvesting to the full extent allowed under existing law," the letter states.
    The forest covers several large parcels in 29 counties across south central Missouri down to the southern border of the state, totaling roughly 1.5 million acres.
    The letter states that the Missouri delegation feels more can be harvested, noting that the forest plan permits an allowable sale quantity (ASQ) of 103 million board feet annually and allows that amount to be exceeded as long as a limit of 1.03 million board feet is maintained over a decade.
    In a response letter dated Sept. 10, Kathleen Atkinson, regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Region, said that the ASQ limit of 103 million board feet includes 44 million board feet of sawtimber and 59 million board feet of other products, like small-diameter wood.
    She the amount harvested is based on the forest's annual budget and staffing capacity as well as the lack of small markets for small-diameter products. Atkinson said the Forest Service is working with groups to strengthen the small wood markets.
    Atkinson also noted that a "significant portion of the timber sale program is directed at removing dead, dying or high risk trees."
    She wrote, "The Forest continually strives to maximize its resources to achieve the highest sell volume possible."
    The letter from the Congressional delegates states that measures can be taken to streamline and expedite harvesting permits for additional acreage of forestland.
    Prescribed burns
    On Sept. 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1526, known as the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, by a vote of 244-173. All six Congressional members who signed the letter voted in favor of the act.
    Included in the bill was an amendment offered on the floor by Smith to stop the prescribed burning of harvestable timber in the Mark Twain National Forest.
    Page 2 of 2 - In a press release, Smith said, the Forest Service was "burning whole swaths of the Mark Twain National Forest at great cost to our forest products industry.
    "These bureaucrats just seem to think that they can get away with anything," said Smith.
    In 2012, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack selected 100,000 acres of the Mark Twain forest to be enrolled in the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project (CFLRP), which intends to use controlled burns and harvesting to convert forests into shortleaf pine-oak woodlands.
    The delegates' letter states, "Constituents who have evaluated the impacts of initial CFLRP burns are very concerned about the results. The large size of the burns and failure to utilize cut hardwoods has created a residual forest condition with scorched overstory trees and bare mineral soil."
    The letter also contends that the burns increased the mortality rate of trees and caused the forest floor to become more susceptible to erosion.
    The delegates asked that the CFLRP burns be monitored and evaluated to ensure the desired objectives are being met.
    Atkinson said the Forest Service is already doing that. "I understand constituents' concerns regarding areas where burning has caused mortality and assure you that careful planning and monitoring is conducted on each burned area," she wrote.

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