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New Mark Twain Forest supervisor says climate change will affect national forest’s management

Dawn Laybolt, the new supervisor of the Mark Twain National Forest headquartered in Rolla.
U.S. Forest Service
Dawn Laybolt, the new supervisor of the Mark Twain National Forest headquartered in Rolla.

As the new director of the Mark Twain National Forest, Dawn Laybolt is excited by the challenges and opportunities of managing such a large and diverse property as the sprawling, 1.5 million-acre woodland that is spread across 29 southern Missouri counties.

Laybolt said that as a science-based agency, the U.S. Forest Service follows the data and acts accordingly, and that includes climate change.

“The U.S. Forest Service is already looking at bringing in more southern species as we get warmer further north. They are already looking at bringing those species in and planting them and sort of jumping ahead with that management,” Laybolt said.

The native of Ontario, Canada, is a 13-year veteran of the Forest Service and has served in a variety of roles at several locations around the country.

Laybolt began her Forest Service career as an archeological technician on the Nebraska National Forest, and worked as a heritage program manager, tribal liaison, staff officer, district ranger and acting forest supervisor.

Most recently, she served as deputy forest supervisor at Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin.

“When this job came open, I thought, Mark Twain is a great place, it’s got an amazing set of programs, it’s one of the top timber producers, it’s got amazing recreation and beautiful landscape, so I applied,” she said.

Laybolt said balancing the many different interests of members of the public who interact with the Mark Twain is part of the allure and challenge of being its supervisor.

“Unlike the Park Service, our mission is multiple uses. It’s not just preservation. We manage it for the public, and that’s all aspects: industry, recreation, grazing and much more,” Laybolt said.

The Mark Twain National Forest is split into six districts, including areas west of Branson on the Arkansas border all the way to Ste. Genevieve County. Laybolt said those distances, plus the large amount of private property mixed in with the public land, create challenges.

“But it also provides an opportunity to work with those private landowners for restoration of their forests and management of their forests for invasive species,” she said.

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.