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That picture, taken in the Mark Twain National Forest, soothes me; and I don’t want to imagine bulldozers anywhere near Lower Rock Creek.  But the U.S. Forest Service has granted approval for salvage logging operations in that area.  Bulldozers will tear wide “fire lines” throught the forest, which will make it easier for ATVs and loggers to get in and will ultimately make it easier to have a de facto road in a roadless area.  The delicate ecology will be disturbed.

So the Missouri Wilderness Coalition has proposed protecting that site, has proposed designating an additional 50,000 acres as federal wilderness and thus immune to the intrusions the Forest Service is about to allow.  50,000 acres sounds like a lot, but actually, it’s a piddling amount.  Jim Scheff of the Missouri Forest Alliance working with the Wilderness Coalition says:

“A big part of this is that, right now, only 4.3 percent of the entire Mark Twain National Forest is designated as wilderness,” Scheff said. “Almost the entire rest of the forest, about 95 percent, is open to some form of logging and other really intensive management.”

In other words, the Coalition is only trying to protect an additional 3 percent of the Mark Twain National Forest and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  That’s 7 percent, all told.  As Kat Logan Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, points out:  “Even God asks for 10 percent.”

But it’s a hard sell.  Many of the local hunters and anglers have been well satisfied with how the land has been handled in the last fifty years and figure that if the system ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They see this proposal as something that interfering city folk came up with.

Others like horseback rider Shannon Campbell, seem surprised at the proposal and reject it at once.

Standing at the Bar-K Wrangler Camp, … Campbell worried that while a wilderness designation won’t prohibit horseback riding at Swan Creek, it might restrict his ability to drive horse trailers into the forest.

And seeing the proposal originate in St. Louis is aggravating, he said.

“I think they need to stay up there and take care of things up there,” he said.

In fact, the proposal did not come from “city folk”.  Kat Logan Smith says that whenever she leaves St. Louis for a meeting about this issue, she never drives less than an hour and a half.  The address of the Coalition is in Boss, MO, in the heart of the Ozarks.

But Campbell’s scorn for ideas that originate in St. Louis illustrates a strategic mistake that some St. Louis members of the Wilderness Coalition made.  They jumped at the chance to get the Post-Dispatch to write a story about their proposal instead of first talking to local hunter/angler groups, warning them about the changes that are in the works, and getting them on board.  Ken Midkiff, another member of the Coalition, says that the way to go would have been to get the local people making individual phone calls to their federal representatives and then to get the news in the media.

Unfortunately, when Roy Blunt and Jo Ann Emerson found out about the article in the P-D, they were immediately horrified, and many of their constituents pretty much felt the same way. Coalition members had been hoping to get Kit Bond, who often endorses environmental legislation, to sponsor the proposal.  Now, however, he is also expressing reservations.

The damage done by that strategic error will take time to undo. Years, perhaps.