Forestry Service decides on Butler Hollow approach

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Project area decreases from 18,000 acres to 3,600

The Ava-Cassville-Willow Springs District of the U.S. Forest Service has issued a draft decision regarding the management of the Butler Hollow area, deciding on an alternative for the forest management project after coming up with multiple alternatives to the original proposal.

The Forest Service has settled on Alternative No. 4, which t 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.

Only trees less than nine inches in diameter would be cut, and herbicide would not be used on the stumps. 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.

The plan calls for no shelterwood treatments, and areas designated for non-commercial cedar removal would be on 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 of the originally-proposed 18,000 acres would receive no vegetation treatments.

"Alternative 4 addresses declining ecosystem health on a reduced scale while being responsive to concerns expressed by the public," said Joe Koloski, Ava-Cassville-Willow Springs District ranger. "Alternative 4 offers an opportunity to expand and connect restored ecosystems on the landscape over time."

Koloski added that this area was selected in part due to its proximity to Roaring River State Park and other state-owned lands where successful ecosystem restoration projects have been implemented.

Other alternatives proposed included:

* No. 1: No action in the Butler Hollow area.

* No. 2: Almost identical to the original proposal in November 2014, Alternative No. 2 would have included 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 have been on 143 acres outside of burn units to regenerate timber stands, and follow-up treatments would have included natural regeneration by chainsaw-felling other trees not desired to remain.

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

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

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

Additional activities proposed included 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.

* No. 3: Nearly the same as Alternative No. 2, Alternative No. 3 would have included non-commercial hardwood restoration thinning 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 have been 218 acres designated as old growth, but fields in bottomland areas would not have been planting in hardwoods. Identical to the chosen alternative, 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.

The Butler Hollow project environmental assessment and draft decision notice can be found at http://1.usa.gov/1emYTFZ.

For more information about the Mark Twain National Forest, people may go to www.fs.usda.gov/mtnf. Mark Twain National Forest is the largest public land manager in Missouri with 1.5 million acres in 29 counties in southern and central Missouri.

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