A section of the Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF) in Texas County is part of a large package designated for a forestry management undertaking.
It’s called the “Elder Piney Project,” and covers 10,492 acres of MTNF land in Pulaski and Texas counties, in the central portion of the Houston, Rolla, Cedar Creek District. About 3,800 acres of the project area are in northwest Texas County around Fort Leonard Wood.
“This is about improving the forest and creating healthy, sustainable conditions,” said district ranger Kimberly Bittle. “We’ve inventoried what’s out there and seen how the forest looks and what kind of management it needs. Now we’re at the stage where we’ve written management prescriptions about how to improve some of the tree stands, some of the roads and recreational opportunities, and whatever else needs to be done.
The project is part of an ongoing directive that includes revisiting all areas of the forest on sort of a rotating basis.
“Our overall forest plan directs us to look at the entire forest, and about every 10 to 20 years we come back around to specific areas to see what needs to be done,” Bittle said. “The project area was last inventoried and managed more than 10 years ago, so it’s due.”
Project activities will include removing aging oaks that are at the end of their maturity and dying, thinning of pine, cedar and other vegetation, and work related to improving watershed conditions. The end result will benefit wildlife as well as the forest, Bittle said.
“It’s the usual forest and vegetation work,” she said. “But we thin the trees for the deer and bats, and what these projects involve does a lot to improve habitat for a lot of wildlife.”
One area of focus in the project will be addressing equine trails that are causing undesirable erosion and other damage. Bittle said horseback riding is welcome in all parts of the MTNF, but when “user-created routes” threaten vegetation, wildlife or waterways, steps are taken to curb those effects.
“This is always a touchy subject,” she said. “ATVs are only allowed on designated trails, but there is a lot of illegal use of them in the forest. On the other hand, the forest is open to all equine use and horses are allowed anywhere. But when trails are created that aren’t in good spots and you get resource damage and sediment going into streams that contain endangered species like mussels, something needs to be done.
“So it’s not that we’re closing off access to any equine use, it’s just that we need to close areas where the resource damage is occurring and putting trails where they need to be to prevent that damage.”
Bittle said there are lots of ATV, horse and multi-use trails in the MTNF, and recreation is one of the primary reasons the land is protected by the U.S. Forest Service.
“But when you get some kinds of resource damage, it ruins the experience for everybody,” she said.
The initial research for the Elder Piney Project was organized into what Bittle and company refer to as a “scoping package.” Letters have been sent to all owners of adjacent land seeking input.
“This is our time to go out to the public and ask if they see something out there that we don’t that needs to be improved,” Bittle said. “Our first official scoping comment period has passed, but really we take comments all the way up until ‘time of decision.’”
Bittle said the project’s time of decision is expected to be toward the end of 2016, and implementation should begin in 2017. As is the case with all similar projects, implementation will lead to timber sales.
“And a lot of the timber we sell goes to local buyers,” Bittle said. “Everybody benefits from that.”
All public comments about the Elder Piney Project need to be submitted in writing, either by mail or email.
To submit comments, email district ranger Kim Bittle at firstname.lastname@example.org. or mail a letter to Houston Ranger District, 108 S. Sam Houston Blvd., Houston, Mo., 65483 (Attn: District Ranger).
More information about the Elder Piney Project and all other projects in the Mark Twain National Forest can be found online at www.mtnf.com (click “land and resources management” and then “projects”).
To ask questions or obtain information by phone, call MTNF integrated resource analyst Mark Hamel at 573-341-7443. The phone number at the district ranger station in Houston is 417-967-4194.