4 alternatives proposed for Butler Hollow

Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Joe Koloski, U.S. Forest Service district ranger for the Ava, Cassville and the Willow Springs District, gives a presentation, concerning the Butler Hollow project, to more than 55 area residents at the Family Life Center in Cassville Thursday. The Forest Service has offered four alternatives to the original project, and a 30-day comment period will open in a couple weeks. A draft decision should be issued in the fall. Kyle Troutman editor@cassville-democrat.com

Another 30-day comment period opens soon, draft decision coming in fall

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed four alternatives to its original Butler Hollow project, and another 30-day comment period will be given before any decision is made.

Joe Koloski, district ranger for the Ava, Cassville and the Willow Springs District, presented the proposals in a meeting at the Family Life Center in Cassville Thursday, with more than 55 people in attendance. It was the third meeting of its type since the

original project proposal in November 2014.

Koloski said the goal of the project, which spans between 4,000 and 18,000 acres in the Mark Twain National Forest, is to maintain the ecosystems found in the area, which would require a better balance of glades and open woodland compared to the the more dominant forest types in Butler Hollow, closed woodland and upland forest.

"Glades and open woodland are underrepresented compared to desired conditions," he said. "We don't want to get rid of any type, we just want to change the proportions to get them back in line."

Butler Hollow is 12 percent open woodland, 41 percent closed woodland, 41 percent upland forest, 3 percent glades and 2 percent riparian, and 85 percent of the project area has a sparse understory with dense canopies. The Forest Service's desired conditions would be 51 percent open woodland, 18 percent closed woodland, 15 percent upland forest, 15 percent glades and 2 percent riparian.

Koloski said creating more glades and open woodland would help slow erosion during increased periods of rain, and lower stress on plant and animal life during dry periods.

"Glades and open woodland are less vulnerable to climate change predictions in the Ozarks," he said. "And, they have more drought- and heat-adapted species because of their diversity."

Koloski said there are 20-plus sensitive plant species in the glades, and five sensitive bird species, all of which would disappear if the glades continue to shrink.

"The goal is for all of the pieces to the puzzle to be present and functioning to maintain a healthy, diverse, sustainable and resilient landscape," he said. "Having a root system of diverse plants in the glades will also prevent erosion."

Alternative No. 1 for the project is a no action alternative, meaning the Forest Service would essentially drop all plans and do nothing to the area.

Alternative No. 2, almost identical to the original proposal in November 2014, would include commercial hardwood and pine thinning on 2,554 acres of land, including cutting of understory vegetation to allow more light to reach the forest floor. Shelterwood harvesting would occur on 143 acres outside of burn units to regenerate timber stands, and follow-up treatments may include natural regeneration by chainsaw-felling other trees not desired to remain.

Non-commercial hardwood restoration thinning would occur on 3,642 acres, which are inaccessible or in areas where slopes would eliminate commercial thinning. Stumps of trees would be treated with herbicides to control sprouting. All sizes of trees would be cut to reduce tree density by about 50 percent in commercial and non-commercial areas.

Restoration of 2,577 acres of glades would be initiated by cutting cedar on cedar-encroached glades, and 2,475 acres of that would be non-commercially treated through the cut and leave approach, while 102 acres would be commercially harvested. Cedar would also be non-commercially treated in 2,035 acres of woodland where encroachment has occurred.

Prescribed fire would be implemented on about 17,484 acres within the project area. There are eight prescribed fire units within the area, and fire would be used cyclically on each unit at three- to five-year intervals.

Additional activities proposed include designating 218 acres of old growth; planting 94 bottomland acres with hardwoods, unless permitted hay cutting can be re-established in those areas; protection of 20 acres around each cave; and maintenance of 49 wildlife ponds.

Alternative No. 3 is the same as Alternative No. 2, less a few changes. Non-commercial hardwood restoration thinning would occur on the same 3,642 acres as in Alternative No. 2, but less density would be removed. Only trees less than nine inches in diameter would be cut, and herbicide would not be used on the stumps.

There would still be 218 acres designated as old growth, but fields in bottomland areas would not be planting in hardwoods. Existing grasses would be mowed annually, as long as there is interest in permitted cutting of hay. These areas would be allowed to naturally convert to hardwoods if interest in cutting of hay declines.

Alternative No. 4 would use the same vegetation management methods as in Alternative No. 3, but on a much smaller scale, as it focuses solely on the Chute Ridge burn unit and the northeast corner of Pine Hollow burn unit, reducing the area treated with prescribed fire to 3,607 acres. Commercial hardwood and pine thinning would occur on 539 acres, and non-commercial hardwood thinning would occur on 574 acres.

There would be no shelterwood treatments, and areas designated for non-commercial cedar removal would be reduced to 840 acres in the glades and 493 acres in woodlands. No commercial harvesting of cedar would occur, and old grown designation would drop to 17 acres. In this alternative, a total of 15,637 acres would receive no vegetation treatments.

Because of the new list of alternatives, the Forest service in less than two weeks will open another 30-day comment window, and those wishing to comment may find a comment package at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=43537, when it becomes available.

During that period, the Forest Service will analyze the possible effects of each alternative through an environmental assessment, and Koloski said he aims to issue a draft decision in the fall.

Following the draft decision, there will be a 45-day objection period for only those who previously submitted comments on the project.

Those who attended the meeting in Cassville raised a number of questions concerning prescribed burn areas, tree cutting and wildlife management. While some believed the Forest Service should go with Alternative No. 1 and not do anything, essentially letting nature take its course, others were open to Alternative No. 4, as the project area size was smaller and would provide the Forest Service an opportunity to show its plan is working in one area before taking on the entire 18,000 acres proposed in the original project.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, attended the meeting and said even though it was contentious at times, those who wished to have their voices heard achieved that goal.

"The end result was good," he said. "I think people understood the alternatives and the Forest Service did a good job coming up with those alternatives. I am hopeful the decision that is made will reflect the comments received, and if alternative four is chosen, that's hopefully workable for the people who live down there and for the Forest Service."

Fitzpatrick said his hope is no matter the decision, residents and the Forest Service will come away satisfied.

"I don't know the best solution, but I know the people who responded during the last comment period and who were at the meeting had legitimate concerns," he said. "I want the best for the people living there long term, and alternative four sounded like something everyone could live with. Alternative four or [alternative] one would be my preference, but I don't think the Forest Service would be talking about this stuff if something didn't need to be done."

Koloski said he understands people's concern, and he hopes to find more agreeable points between opponents and the Forest Service.

"Obviously, people care deeply about the area and have concerns," he said. "Our goal going into the meetings is to find more common ground."

Koloski said he is not leaning any direction toward any one of the alternatives, as the analysis and environmental assessment will play a large role in the decision made.

"I have four alternatives to choose from, and the analysis will play a large role," he said. "The comment period is meant to identify any issues, then when we do the analysis, we'll compare the impact to the issues and range of alternatives to choose the alternative that is best for the land and for the people in the long term."

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