FREDERICKTOWN — About 119 people gathered at the senior center Tuesday night for a public meeting, hosted by the United States Forest Service, concerning forest management and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use in Mark Twain National Forest.
A question and answer session followed presentations by forest service officials, where many citizens voiced their opinions about the forest service and its management of ATV use.
One citizen, who seemed to carry the opinion of many people in attendance, complained of a lack of trails in the national forest for ATVs.
“We’d like to see miles and miles of trails weaving through the forest,” said one citizen.
Forest service officials responded by saying they have tried to add trails in the past, but cited opposition from the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, as reasons new trails have not been constructed. Officials also pointed out there are about 1,500 miles of open roads throughout the national forest for ATV use.
Many people’s comments, concerning the lack of trails and access for ATVs, were followed by loud rounds of applause.
Another citizen suggested the forest service is discriminating against older adults by forcing many who hunt in the national forest to walk to their hunting locations. The man’s argument centered around trails which are classified as “walk-in only,” saying some hunters are not physically able to walk the trails, meaning they need ATVs to get to their preferred hunting spot.
Some attendees voiced concern over environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, who they say are controlling the way the forest service manages the national forest.
No one from the Sierra Club attended the meeting, mainly because the club believes the forest service should hold meetings closer to cities such as St. Louis or Columbia, where people there use the national forest as well, an official with the club said.
The forest service has held meetings at Salem, Alton and Ozark, with Tuesday night’s being the last of four meetings. No meetings were planned near larger cities.
Jim Bensman, Forest Watch Coordinator with Heartwood, an organization dedicated to forest protection, was at the meeting. Bensman denied claims groups such as his impact forest service policy, saying his organization has tried to stop the forest service from allowing logging in the national forest, to no avail.
Bensman said his group’s main concern is with logging in the national forest, not necessarily ATV use. Bensman agreed that many environmental groups are upset the meetings were not held closer to large population centers.
Forest service officials cited a large number of complaints from land owners in and around the national forest about ATV use as another reason more trails have not been added.
Another person who attended the meeting raised the question if there were land owners who had problems with ATV use, why were they not at the meeting. Officials replied by saying land owners have attended the previous meetings.
Ron Raum, with the forest service, reiterated a number of times there are 280 million people in America, “and everybody owns a little piece” of the national forest system. Raum said the forest service has “a balancing act” to try to please everyone in its management of the national forest system, of which Missouri comprises five percent.
Forest Service officials stated their “number one priority” is not building more trails for ATV use, but revising its plan for Mark Twain National Forest. No major changes in forest service policy are expected with the new plan, which is updated every 10 to 15 years.
Raum said, despite rumors to the contrary, the forest service is not going to stop horse back riding in the national forest.
“Horse back riding as you’ve been enjoying it in the Mark Twain National Forest will continue,” said Raum.
The most likely change in the forest service’s forest management plan will be an increased focus on the forest’s ecosystem. The forest service hopes to focus the plan on restoring the national forest to its original habitat.