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Forest land not protected

Thursday, November 29, 2007

OREGON COUNTY -- Oregon County and portions of the Mark Twain National Forest in the county will not be among the six counties that environmentalist are trying to designate as protected land.

Oregon County has more federal land than any other county in the state.

Presiding Commissioner Leo Warren said there is just over 105,000 acres of Forest Service land in the Mark Twain National Forest in Oregon County. "Of that 105,000 acres, 16,500 acres is already protected land," Warren said.

The land he is talking about is the Irish Wilderness located north of Alton. The Irish Wilderness was designated federally protected land on May 21, 1984.

Recently environmental and conservation groups calling themselves the Wilderness Coalition, have set their sights on Mark Twain land in six southern Missouri counties.

Jeff Conners with Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson's office said the land involves the counties of Howell, Douglas, Carter, Ozark, Madison and Iron Counties.

Conners said there are 50,000 acres of Mark Twain land in those counties that environmental groups saying are at risk for environmental damage by logging, mining and other threats.

Emerson has gone on record as being opposed to the wilderness designation in southern Missouri. Nearly 80 percent of the forest included in the Wilderness Coalition's proposal is in the Eighth Congressional District that she serves, which Oregon County is a part of.

There are currently eight wilderness areas covering 68,000 acres in Missouri, with most in the 1.5 million acres Mark Twain National Forest.

"As commissioner, and I think I can speak for most all the residents of the county, we feel very fortunate our county is not involved in the most recent effort to designate more National Forest Service Land as federally protected," Warren said.

"We already have enough protected land. It puts too many restrictions on the land and does not allow our people to work the land or even enjoy the land for recreation," the commissioner said.

In a press release from Emerson's office, she said she will fight the proposal with every breath of her body.

Warren said wilderness designation would limit the Forest Service's ability to fight wildfires and to fight the red oak borer, an insect that is killing Missouri's oak trees.

"Just because our county is not mentioned in the proposal does not mean we would not be affected. Our county boarders several of the six counties mentioned and wildfires can spread fast in this type of dense forest. Firefighters need to be able to contain a wildfire before it reaches our county," he said.

"My constituents in the Eighth Congressional District are dead set against this," Emerson said. "The Wilderness Coalition and the people for it who live in St. Louis don't live here, and they don't make their living here," the press release said.

Acting Mark Twain Forest Supervisor Paul Story said Nov. 26, that the action by the Wilderness Coalition came about after the Forest Service Land and Resource Management Plan of 2005 was reviewed.

"The 50,000 acres this coalition is referring to has nothing to do with any of the recommendations that were in our Forest Service Plan," Story said.

He said as of this time there is no formal legislation regarding the 50,000 acres and the Wilderness Coalition is just providing information to Congress to sway their position about adding the land to the already designated wilderness acres. He said it takes an Act of Congress to change the federal land designation.



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