Butler Hollow proposal causes backlash
Plan to clear 18,000 acres of forest prompts concern
A proposal for a prescribed burning of nearly 18,000 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest is drawing attention from residents who live near the Butler Hollow Area.
On Nov. 18, the U.S. Forest Service's Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs Ranger District published a legal notice in the Springfield News-Leader seeking public comments regarding what it describes as the "Butler Hollow Project."
The project's goals, as described in a summary released by the district, include improving the health of the forest's ecosystem and provide recreational opportunities.
Another goal listed in the summary is to "use timber management, where appropriate, to restore or enhance degraded natural communities, sustain healthy and productive forests and reduce hazardous fuels. Provide timber and wood products to help support sustainable local industry and economic interests."
To accomplish those goals, the district proposes a variety of actions, including "a combination of commercial harvest, non-commercial treatments, prescribed fire and herbicide treatment of stumps."
The proposal calls for prescribed burning on approximately 17,517 acres, including 1,760 acres of private land.
"Prescribed burning is essential to the maintenance of glade and open woodland communities," the summary said.
Allen Weathersbee, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for the district, said the Springfield newspaper is the ranger district's newspaper of record for the required publication of legal notices.
"We've done everything that we normally do and everything that we are legally required to do," he said.
According to Weathersbee, federal law allows residents to state their objections to a proposal before a decision on the proposal is made.
In this case, the decision will be made by District Ranger Joe Koloski.
In a letter to Koloski, Sharon Becker, a 36-year resident of Butler Hollow, said the land should remain protected for multiple reasons.
"The goal is to turn 18,000 acres of prime, diverse forest land into open woodlands and glades," she said in the letter. "If it should be open woodlands and glades, it would be just that. There is enough soil to support forests.
"To maintain the system you propose will require constant manipulation and management at huge taxpayer expense. To sell off our national forests to timber interests for oak trees is a real travesty."
Becker said the project will also harm recreational use, as less forest land will lead to less deer, turkey and song birds, as well as destroy the habitat of ginseng, goldenseal, morel mushrooms, orchids and the white tradescantha, which need deep-shaded forests to survive.
"The very rare chinquapin chestnut has a real stronghold in the proposed Tate burn area," she said. "It would be destroyed."
Residents wishing to voice their concerns about the project have until Monday to do so. Only those who file a comment before Monday's deadline will be allowed to voice concerns in the future.
Weathersbee said that individuals who submit comments regarding the proposed project will have an additional 30- to 45-day to object to the project analysis and a draft decision. He said the draft decision won't be released for several months.
People may submit comments by email, fax, letter or phone, and they must include their names, addresses, contact information, the project's title and the reason's for concern.
This wishing to submit a comment to Weathersbee may do so in person or by telephone at the Mark Twain National Forest, Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs District Office, Rt. 6, Box 614110, Ava, MO 65608. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the phone number is 417-683-4428, ext. 131.
To write Koloski, people should send letters to the same address with "Butler Hollow Project" in the attention line. People may fax comments to 417-683-5722, or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Loftis, managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers in Arkansas, contributed to this report.