Forest Service wants to turn Butler Hollow into glades
Area residents criticize restoration proposal at open house meeting
Area residents have until Friday to comment about the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service's plans to restore the 18,181-acre Butler Hollow into glades.
"Southern Missouri and northern Arkansas have one of the largest concentrations of glades anywhere," said Joe Koloski, Forest Service district ranger. "Along with that ecosystem is a number of pretty unique species, too, that without the open, grassy conditions, their habitat quality starts to decline, and you start to lose some of those species as well."
The Forest Service plans to remove cedar trees and reintroduce periodic fires, Koloski said.
Before settlers arrived to the area more than 150 years ago, those glade areas were open and predominantly contained grasses, forbes, some shrubs and very low density tree cover, Koloski said. Natural ignition fires or fires set by Native Americans maintained the glades.
"After settlement [with fire exclusion], what's happened is cedars have encroached," he said. "The situation that you see now with cedar-encroached glades is pretty far removed from what a healthy glade and what historically those glades looked like."
Diversity is much lower in a condition where it is encroached by cedars, Koloski said. Cedars are going to shade out other plant species. Needle cast is acidic. It makes the soil and that area directly underneath the cedar not suitable for other grasses and plants to grow.
"The plan right now is the [Forest Service] would burn one to two units annually, so that it is separated into eight units," he said. "They average about 2,000 acres each."
The prescribed fires and cutting the cedars will restore the glades by controlling the brush competition and the cedar encroachment, Koloski said.
Butler Hollow is within the Mark Twain National Forest. It is part of the Ava/Cassville/WIllow Springs Ranger District, which is about 306,000 acres. The Mark Twain National Forest is about 1.5 million acres throughout Missouri.
Last year, the Forest Service initially contacted more than 200 residents who owned land adjacent to Butler Hollow. A Nov. 22 legal notice initiated the project's original 30-day comment period. The current comment period began Jan. 26.
On Jan. 27, around 100 people came to an open house in Cassville to discuss the project, Koloski said.
"There were some discussions on why are we doing this project, and why do we think it's necessary," he said. "Also, some concerns expressed about burning and the effects of burning and also some of the effects of the thinning on wildlife and other resources as well."
At the open house, Dale and Sharron Becker, who have lived next to Butler Hollow and about 4 miles east of Seligman for 36 years, tried to persuade the Forest Service to do nothing. Sharon Becker has also created a petition for anyone who wants the Forest Service to do nothing in Butler Hollow, which the USDA division has stated is a first alternative plan for the project. She will submit the petition to the Forest Service by Friday.
The proposed plan to cut the trees and set fires in Butler Hollow would destroy the forest to such a degree that it could not come back, said Dale Becker, who also operates an organic garden with his wife at their home and has been a trained biologist since he graduated from the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point in 1972.
"They can't call themselves the Forest Service anymore when they pull stuff like this," he said.
Large open areas are fine for certain species, but they do not work for many of the species that already inhabit Butler Hollow, Becker said. Deer and turkey need a lot of woods and forest to survive. Bears, cougars and bobcats require large contiguous areas of forest without breaks because these animals are territorial.
Butler Hollow is a wilderness and not an open, grassland and woodland glade, he said.
"The poisoning scares us," Becker said. "It's going to affect our whole place. It may affect our ground water, too. It may affect our drinking water, which comes from a deep well."
Water from Butler Hollow also drains into Table Rock Lake, he said.
"This is a very serious assault on the national forest," Becker said.
For 35 years, Cindra Fischbacher -- who attended the open house -- has lived next to Butler Hollow, about 5 miles east of Seligman.
"I am surrounded on three sides by the Mark Twain National Forest that they are going to cut, burn and poison," Fischbacher said.
Many, many people are against the proposed project because if the Forest Service poisons the land, it will poison the residents' water supply, she said. Butler Hollow is a climax forest.
"They want to change it from the Mark Twain National Forest to the Mark Twain National Glade," Fischbacher said. "That's not managing a forest. A forest is a forest. A glade is something completely different."
Area tourism is also gone if the Forest Service proceeds with the project because tourists come to the national forest for the woods, she said.
The Forest Service has not seen low-to-moderate fires polluting the soil or water supply in similar habit areas to Butler Hollow, Koloski said. During high intensity fires, like out-of-control wildfires, the said it has seen such issues as erosion and sedimentation runoff.
The people that comment will have standing to object, he said. After the comment period ends, the Forest Service will review the comments, identify any additional issues and prepare an environmental assessment.
"As part of the environmental assessment, we are required to look at the effects of threatened, endangered and sensitive species," Koloski said.
The Forest Service will analyze the project's impacts to hydrology and soils, he said.
"As far as direct effects to wildlife, we feel that prescribed fire and this type of restoration is beneficial to wildlife populations as a whole," Koloski said.
Koloski will then draft a decision document. For 45 days, the public can review the draft decision notice at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mtnf/projects via "Butler Hollow" and object to Koloski's decision.
The public can submit written comments to District Ranger, Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs Ranger District, Rt. 6, Box 614110, Ava, MO 65608. People can also send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line of Butler Hollow Project Comments or by fax at 417-683-5722. For more information, people may contact the Ava Forest Service office or Koloski at 417-683-4428.