A new program to improve land near the Mark Twain National Forest was announced.

Local representatives of the U.S.  Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service division have taken more steps toward implementation of a forest restoration project in section of the Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) in the Boiling Springs area of Texas County.

Called the Boiling Springs Project, the effort affects a 6,750-acre tract of federal land that was earlier identified as a prime space for restoration, located south of Highway 32, east of Highway 17 and dissected by Boiling Springs Road. The goal is to bring the area closer to the way it was when settlers arrived in the 1800s, in large part by thinning out thick stands of trees, officials said.

MTNF Houston-Rolla-Cedar Creek district ranger Kimberly Bittle said letters were recently sent out designed to alert people to a 30-day period during which Forest Service officials will consider public comments about the project, including close to 100 to addresses in the area surrounding the project’s boundaries. Bittle said input received during the period (which ends Oct. 28) will be used in the process of determining the final direction taken in implementation the project.

An initial round of letters was sent out last spring containing information about the project and describing its goals and intentions. Responses were taken into consideration before the second mailing.

District integrated resource analyst Mark Hamel — Bittle’s top assistant on the project — said there were plenty of replies to the first round of letters.

“There was a lot of good local response,” Hamel said.

In addition to the responses, a petition was submitted bearing more than 300 signatures from local citizens wishing for the project to be halted.

“There was a lot of concern that we were trying to keep people out of the forest,” Hamel said. “People are fearful that they’re not going to be able to go hunting, ride horses or do other things they’re used to doing in the national forest, but that’s not the case at all. People will continue to be allowed to recreate and enjoy the Mark Twain just as they always have. We’re trying to make the project area better — not only for recreation, but for wildlife and endangered species —and it will actually improve hunting in the area.”

Hamel said one of the primary reasons for peoples’ concerns is that no similar project has taken place in the area for decades.

“This is the first project we’ve had in the area in over 20 years and they’re not used to seeing us or hearing about us doing activities on the forest,” he said. “They’re not used to our public involvement process where we try to reach local landowners in the project area to let them know what we’re doing.

“This is all kind of new to people. It’s a matter of us letting them know what’s going on.”

When the Forest Service makes contact with people living adjacent to a given restoration project area, its goals not only include informing them, but gleaning information as well.

“We’re interested in what they do on their own land because we can look at the effects of that activity and consider that in what we’re proposing,” Hamel said.

When Forest Service restoration projects are planned and implemented, they not only take into account forest management and improvement, but wildlife management as well. Hamel said many stands of trees in the project area are so dense that large animals are scarce and the endangered Indiana Bat that might normally live there doesn’t because there isn’t enough space to fly.

“They want a more open canopy,” Hamel said. “But we’re the Forest Service, and we want to manage the national forest – including its trees, its plants and its critters – and make it more enjoyable for people in the future.”

Hamel said public comments can have a profound effect on how a project is ultimately carried out.

“We like them to be based on science or information of the area,” he said, “and we utilize them to develop our projects, by sometimes developing alternatives to the initially proposed actions.”

After the conclusion of the 30-day comment period, the next step in the Boiling Springs Project’s process is for Bittle to draft and have published a document outlining the direction to be taken. A 45-day period will follow during which people who submitted written comments will be allowed to submit objections.

Any objections will then be reviewed by MTNF Supervisor Bill Nightingale.

“The credibility of those objections will be considered, and we’ll work with the objectors to find resolutions before Kim makes her final decision,” Hamel said.

Bittle pointed out that the Boiling Springs Project will have a positive economic impact on the surrounding area. Timber harvesting and other tasks will be performed by local workers after a bidding process.

“The opportunity to do forest management in the project area will allow a percentage of the revenue from timber sales to go back to Texas County,” she said. “Additional benefits of the project would be employment of harvest crews, a benefit to the wood products industries, and benefits to the local and surrounding businesses that are associated with goods and services support.”

Implementation of the Boiling Springs Project is expected to begin sometime in 2014 and take about 10 years to complete. A similar project was implemented early this year on MTNF land in Phelps County.

“We really encourage people to send us their comments about this project,” Bittle said.

“And this is their opportunity,” Hamel said. “This is the only 30-day comment period we’re going to have. We’re very receptive to what people have to say in writing, and we look forward to moving forward on our project.”

People are fearful that they’re not going to be able to go hunting, ride horses or do other things they’re used to doing in the national forest, but that’s not the case at all. People are allowed to recreate and enjoy the Mark Twain and will continue to be just as they always have.”

Submit your comments

Comments submitted to the USDA Forest Service about the Boiling Springs Project must be in written form. Three methods can be used:

•Mail to Kimberly Bittle, MTNF Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek Ranger District, 108 S. Sam Houston Blvd., Houston, Mo., 65483.

•Email to: comments-eastern-mark-twain-houston@fs.fed.us (include “Boiling Springs Project” in the subject line).

•Fax to 417-967-2524.

More information

Comprehensive information about the Boiling Springs Project is available on the Mark Twain National Forest’s website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/mtnf/landmanagement/projects. Click “Boiling Spring Natural Community Restoration.”

Read an article about the project that ran in the Houston Herald last April online at http://www.houstonherald.com/news/forest-service-plans-restoration-project-at-boiling-springs/article_021df802-acf5-11e2-8f10-001a4bcf887a.html.

Boiling Springs Project

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