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United States Department of Agriculture

Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program Success Story

Missouri Pine-Oak Woodland Restoration Project
Mark Twain National Forest Partners Have Burning Desire to Restore Missouri's Landscape

Mark Twain National Forest, April 6, 2013

Smoke rising above the forest from the prescribed fire of the Handy burn area.
Smoke rising above the forest from the prescribed fire of the Handy burn area.

A two-day prescribed burn on the Mark Twain National Forest and private landowners continue Missouri's natural community restoration.

On March 26-27, 2012, two Mark Twain National Forest Ranger Districts completed prescribed burns totaling 11,758 acres in the Handy and Pine Knot project areas. These prescribed burns are part of a 345,000-acre all lands collaborative initiative, Missouri Pine-Oak Woodlands Restoration, that will lead natural community restoration into the future.

The Current River Hills Conservation Opportunity Area has been identified as one of the highest priority ecological restoration areas in the Ozark Highlands, which contains Missouri's largest contiguous forest and three nationally designated Scenic Riverways. The area has important conservation implications for the long-term survival of forest interior birds and endemic aquatic wildlife. It also harbors the globe's largest restorable fire-mediated shortleaf pine-bluestem ecosystem.

Thirty-eight Mark Twain employees worked the prescribed burns on March 26, 2012; approximately 48 worked the burns on the following day. Resources included Poplar Bluff and Eleven Point Ranger Districts employees; National Park Service Ozark National Scenic Riverways and Black Hills Fire Module; AmeriCorps St. Louis; Helicopter 67H; Mark Twain National Forest helicopter crew; and Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Smoke rising above the forest from the prescribed fire of the Pine Knot burn area.
Smoke rising above the forest from the prescribed fire of the Pine Knot burn area.

On March 26, 2012, Pine Knot's 3,943 acre prescribed burn was completed. The perimeter was fired using multiple ATV torches, while the interior ignition was conducted by Helicopter 67H dropping 10,000 ignition spheres.

On March 27, 2012, the remaining 7,815-acre Handy portion of the burn was accomplished. The firing methods were the same, with an additional 21,000 ignition spheres dropped during the interior firing portion.

What made these burns unique and successful were the partnerships developed with local landowners using the Wyden Amendment.

Four private landowners entered into participating agreements with Mark Twain National Forest to promote natural community restoration on their lands. Approximately 500 acres of private lands were burned in conjunction with Pine Knot and Handy project areas. The use of private lands allows for the expansion of the burn unit perimeters to major roads, green pastures, and large creeks. The location of the containment lines increases firefighter safety, reduces environmental and visual impacts, and creates a contiguous area for natural community restoration across boundaries and the landscape.

A net reduction of approximately 10 miles of dozer line was one of the benefits of having private landowner participation. In addition, several landowners have agreed to provide locations for a base for the helicopter to be used during prescribed burns. A variety of helispots allows aerial ignition resources to be used effectively without fear that a single helispot would be impeded by smoke.

Larger burns also allow Mark Twain National Forest staff to analyze weather patterns and fuel conditions to choose the days that best fit desired objectives, including good dispersion of the smoke generated by the prescribed burn.

By burning a large landscape over a two-day period, local communities are affected by smoke for a shorter duration than if prescribed burns were conducted on multiple days within the same geographical area.

The cooperation between Missouri Department of Conservation Private Lands Division, which supports the program, has augmented community support in surrounding areas. Mark Twain National Forest districts continue to have private landowners interested in partnering and in restoring natural communities on their lands.

“The success of this effort shows that together we can accomplish landscape scale projects that cross boundaries and help us all achieve our desire results; whether that be private landowners waiting to improve quail habitat, or federal and state agencies managing lands for the benefit of the public,” said Mark Twain National Forest Supervisor David Whittekiend.

Missouri Pine-Oak Woodland Restoration Project

In early 2012, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack selected this area as one of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects. Congress, under Title IV of Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, established the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program to encourage a collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes.

The Mark Twain National Forest is restoring approximately 100,000 acres of shortleaf pine-bluestem woodland. Shortleaf pine-oak woodland ecosystems once dominated more than six million acres of southern Missouri. Restoration of pine-oak woodlands will provide habitat for a wide variety of plant and animal species that are absent or rare.

This increase in structural and biological diversity will provide for a healthier and more resilient ecological system. Healthier systems can better withstand natural stresses such as insects and disease, drought, fire, wind, ice and climate change. A healthy system is also better to provide sustainable resources such as timber, wildlife, and recreational opportunities.

Restoration usually starts with a commercial timber harvest or thinning to open up the structure and provide more sunlight to the ground. In most cases, fire is reintroduced in a carefully controlled setting. Prescribed fire removes the dense leaf litter, and helps control re-sprouting of oaks and other woody plants.

When restored, the treated landscape will have little threat of destructive wildfire and will provide sustainable products to expanding timber industries in the towns of Winona, Poplar Bluff, Doniphan, and Van Buren. The area will have the desired appearance of open, park-like shortleaf pine woodlands dominated by maturing shortleaf pine.

Cooperative planning and on-going implementation will be vital to the project's success.