Emerson opposes more wilderness protection

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

U.S. representatives Jo Ann Emerson and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., have joined together in strong opposition to an environmental group's proposal to put 50,000 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest under wilderness protection.

The two announced Tuesday that they would ban together to fight any efforts to designate the acreage in seven different areas of the forest as wilderness areas -- a designation that can only be granted by an act of Congress.

A loosely organized volunteer group The Missouri Wilderness Coalition is seeking the designation of these seven areas. One of the areas is near Big Spring in Carter County near Van Buren.

If granted the protection, all motorized and mechanized vehicles would be prohibited in the areas, outlawing commercial logging and recreational ATV or bicycle riding. The U.S. Forest Service, which controls the land, would also be limited in land management, unable to clear out brush or take steps to prevent such things as insect infestation.

Natural forest fires within the boundaries would be allowed to burn unless they threatened forest outside the designated area, said Paul Strong, acting forest supervisor in the Mark Twain forest.

Blunt cited the restrictions against harvesting of timber -- which isn't currently allowed in the areas -- while Emerson cited fire and disease control as reasons for opposition.

Missouri senators Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond said they wanted to hear more information before making a decision to support or oppose the coalition's proposal.

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