February 14, 2006
Press Release: What did the Forest Service know and when did they know it?
In December of 2005, the Forest Plan was released for the Mark Twain National Forest. This plan is a document that determines how the Forest Service manages the public lands of the Mark Twain National Forest. The Forest Service received over 7000 comments on the draft Plan.
The recent announcement by the Bush Administration that it intends to seek the approval of Congress to sell tracts of publicly-owned lands 21,700 acres in the Mark Twain National Forest raises questions about why this was not included in the Forest Plan for the Mark Twain. While the Forest Service office in Rolla the headquarters of the Mark Twain National Forest asserts that there is no connection between the Forest Plan and the proposal to sell lands, this is clearly not so. If lands are to be removed from public ownership, the Forest Service cannot manage these lands.
There are then two (and only two) possible scenarios:
1. The Forest Service planners knew of this proposal by the Bush Administration and withheld this information from the public, or,
2. The Bush Administration did not inform the Forest Service of the proposal.
Scenario #1 is the more likely scenario, and one that has been more or less confirmed by the Rolla Mark Twain office. Apparently, the Bush Administration contacted the Forest Supervisor (or the Regional Supervisor) and asked that tracts that met certain criteria be identified. Even though those compiling the Forest Plan knew this, the owners of the land the general public were not aware that such a proposal was contemplated.
Neither scenario bodes well for the planning efforts that determine management techniques (and categories of lands) for the Mark Twain National Forest.
Scenario #1 means that the Forest Service was privy to information that it withheld secretiveness. Scenario #2 means that the Forest Service was ignorant of proposals that affected its management of current public lands.
While there are a number of shortcomings and failures to heed public concerns in the Forest Plan, the questions regarding secretiveness or ignorance raise new concerns.
Background Information Sales of Forest Lands
The Sierra Club is on record in opposition to selling lands of our National Forest.
In Missouri, the Mark Twain National Forest encompasses 1.5 million acres, mostly south of I-44 (although there are a few thousand acres north of that Interstate highway).
Most of these lands were acquired when the owners abandoned them and owed taxes to the US Treasury. Other lands, more recently added to the Mark Twain, were donated by the owners or purchases in a willing seller-willing buyer situation.
With few exceptions, the lands of the MTNF are not suitable for row-crop or pastoral agriculture. The lands are steep with thin, rocky soils. Most lands are heavily-wooded. However, due to the lack of fertility, even oaks, hickories, pines, and cedars (the dominant species) grow slowly, taking a century or more to reach maturity. In spite of this, the public lands of the Ozarks are rife with wildlife: deer, turkey, bobcat, grouse and many other species. There have been recent and confirmed sightings of cougar. Thanks to the heavily-wooded slopes and shaded watercourses, streams flowing through the MTNF teem with native and introduced fish.
The Bush Administration, in a narrow and shortsighted move, is proposing to dispose of isolated tracts through land sales. The stated purpose is to benefit rural schools. While there would be a one-time windfall that would indeed generate much money, there are two significant problems:
1. Once the windfall money is spent, there is no provision for long term funding. What next? National parks? Wildlife refuges?
2. There is no connection between the sale of lands and benefits to the local school district. While 285 acres of the MTNF is proposed in Shannon County, there is no assurance that any school district in that county would receive the monies.
As can readily be seen, there are major ecological and economic problems with the Bush Administrations proposal. Concerned citizens need to contact their US Representatives and Senators and inform them of these problems.
Contact numbers are below:
Kit Bond 202-224-5721
Jim Talent 202-224-6154
US Congressional Representatives
Lacy Clay 202-225-2406
Todd Akin 202-225-2561
Russ Carnahan 202-225-2671
Ike Skelton 202-225-2876
Emmanuel Cleaver 202-225-4535
Sam Graves 202-225-7041
Roy Blunt 202-225-0197
Joanne Emerson 202-225-4404
Kenny Hulshof 202-225-2956