Guest Post by RYAN HUSSEY & Luis Contreras
In southern Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, the spirit of the forest defending Bolala is alive and well in community members who helped protect part of the Mark Twain National Forest.
A US Forest Service restoration plan for one particular part of this national forest, called Butler Hollow, threatened the natural state of this area and posed serious health risks to residents. Although the Forest Service tried to get this plan passed quickly and quietly without involvement from residents, community members led by Sherry and Dale Becker were adamant about getting both the forest and their community the protection they deserved.
The Forest Service’s 2014 plan called for the restoration of over 18,000 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest, using prescribed burns, herbicides, and the removal of cedar trees. Amongst other sources, they planned to fund this project by building roads and allowing for commercial logging in the area. However, residents realized that allowing logging in Butler Hollow would have fundamentally changed the unique natural character of the forest. The Forest Service justified this project by claiming that they wanted to return the forest to its “pre-European settlement conditions,” despite strong evidence that the surveys on which they based their image of Butler Hollow’s “natural state” were unreliable. They planned to do all of this without an environmental impact assessment.
Butler Hollow residents and neighbors were highly concerned with unavoidable health problems arising from the particulate matter and other toxic chemicals from incomplete wood combustion caused by prescribed burns. The local community decided that they wouldn’t allow their health and the health of the forest to be put at risk. The only option after a thorough study of the proposed action, was to say NO and take a firm stand. Clean water, clean air, and wilderness are not negotiable in the Ozarks.
That this project would not have restored Butler Hollow to glades was far from the only issue. Logging and prescribed burning would have exposed the forest to wild turkey hunting, four wheelers, arson, and illegal logging. Repeated prescribed burns would threaten wildlife and the survival of some species. Logging and wood smoke in Butler Hollow would also have made the forest unsafe, and less accessible to community members and tourists alike, meaning that this restoration plan could have reduced area tourism as a result.
Thanks to the community’s tireless work, using traditional media, social media, colorful posters hung up around town, and the help of their local congressman, Republican Billy Long, the community was able to work with the Forest Service to reduce the restoration area from 18,000 to 3,600 acres. Congressman Long helped pressure the Forest Service into taking residents’ concerns seriously, by extending the public comment period and ensuring that all voices were heard so that a solution could be reached.
The Forest Service has proposed prescribed burns on 3,600 acres, and commercial logging on 539 acres. Most people oppose all burns and commercial logging. A final decision is expected shortly. By working together and standing up for the health of their forests and community, these residents have become the Bolala and will keep Butler Hollow untouched and natural.