Blunt, Smith cite concern over controlled burns

Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith raised concerns Tuesday that controlled burns in the Mark Twain National Forest are destroying trees that could be used for Missouri’s timber industry.

Blunt and Smith, both Republicans, met Monday to express their concerns with Kathleen Atkinson, the eastern regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service. Blunt is from southwest Missouri and Smith’s southeast Missouri congressional district includes much of the eastern half of the Mark Twain National Forest.

The forest service uses the burns to control growth of trees and vegetation in the expansive national forest, which stretches over hundreds of square miles in southern Missouri. The Mark Twain National Forest website listed nearly 56,000 acres scheduled for prescribed burns in fiscal 2013.

Logging and timber industries in Missouri employ more than 32,000 people and contribute $5.7 billion each year to the state’s economy, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. The department’s website says Missouri is a national leader in the manufacture of forest products like charcoal, barrels, and red-cedar gift items.

“Forestry is an important economic engine in rural Missouri, and many families and local businesses rely on the Mark Twain National Forest for resources including timber, wood products, agriculture, and recreation,” Blunt said in a news release.

But Smith said controlled burns have inadvertently destroyed too many trees.

“We would like to see a management strategy from the Forest Service that prevents harvestable timber from being destroyed, and also ensures that local governments and school districts will continue to benefit as much as possible from timber sales,” Smith said, also in a news release. Timber sales provide tax money to local government and school districts.

Messages seeking comment Tuesday from a forest service official were not immediately returned.

Justin Gibbs, a spokesman for Smith, said that as a result of the meeting, the Forest Service agreed to produce economic reports on management of the Mark Twain National Forest and the effects of controlled burns on local communities and the forest products industry.

Blunt and Smith asked the Forest Service to halt burns until that’s determined, but Gibbs said the service declined to do so.

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