Young Conservation Area is a good place to think about land management. The whole of the Ozarks--the whole of the United States, in fact--is owned by someone, even if that someone is a government agency. And those owners all have agendas of one kind or another. Sometimes, especially if they're like the Missouri Department of Conservation or the U.S. Forest Service, they have multiple goals on their agendas, and those goals get worked out differently in the different parcels owned by the agency.

The Missouri Department of Conservation operates Young CA, and they have a very clear mission statement:

The Mission of the Missouri Department of Conservation is to protect and manage the fish, forest and wildlife resources of the state; to serve the public and facilitate their participation in resource management activities; to provide opportunity for all citizens to use, enjoy and learn about fish, forest and wildlife resources.

And they do a top-notch job of communicating with their constituents. They do a top-notch job in every respect. I've traveled a bit, and I think they do a better job of managing our natural resources than most of the other states' fish and game organizations.

Their work at Young CA is clearly announced: they aren't chopping down trees at random. Right down the road, at LaBarque Creek CA, they haven't been doing timber stand improvement. Perhaps it's because LaBarque Creek CA contains a forest that's in better condition. Or perhaps it's because they don't want to run ATV's into LaBarque Creek CA (I'd hate to have to carry a chainsaw any distance). Or perhaps (and this seems most likely) they are managing LaBarque Creek CA with an eye toward protection, instead of seeking to "facilitate" the public's "participation in resource management activities" (or, as we say in my house, "huntin' and fishing'").

Perhaps as much as half of the trail at Young CA crosses land where they've been busy with the chainsaw. I can't judge whether it's working or not, and I don't know whether I'll ever really know enough to judge. I did see some deer sign. Not a lot, but some. I didn't see any actual deer, but I'm not surprised, since I was there in the middle of the day, when the deer would have been on their day beds, in cover. I guess if I really wanted to check, I'd go back at first light or at sunset, and walk the trail quietly.

Regardless of whether the Department of Conservation's activities at Young CA work or not, the cut trees there symbolize the relationship between people and every last acre in the Ozarks. There's not a bit of it that's untouched, unmanaged, and free of human intention.

There are spots in the Ozarks where people are thin on the ground, and where the forest has been left alone for a long, long time (e.g., the Irish Wilderness, Bell Mountain Wilderness), but they're that way either because people haven't found a paying use for the land, or else because the land owner has decided to manage it that way. If "nature" means "a place free from human intention," then there's not a bit of it left in the Ozarks (or anywhere else, for that matter). And I'm okay with that.