Feds plan to open entire Blue Rock State Forest to fracking.
UPDATE: A federal agency’s plan to open Blue Rock State Forest to fracking was put on hold yesterday after state officials said they didn’t know about it. Read more.
Digging by the Buckeye Forest Council has uncovered a pair of proposed policy changes that could radically change the public's enjoyment and the survival of endangered wildlife in two public forests in Ohio.
Reversing 14 years of management for habitat protection, the Ohio Division of Forestry (DOF) has announced plans to eliminate an 8,000 acre Backcountry Management Area (BCMA) in Shawnee State Forest in Scioto and Adams Counties.
Conservation leaders believe the radical change in management will devalue the public's investment and threaten rare and endangered species, including the timber rattlesnake.
The Shawnee BCMA currently includes the following special protections not enjoyed by most of Ohio's state forest lands:
- Two existing roads in the BCMA are closed to vehicular traffic;
- Clear-cuts are limited to 25 acres maximum;
- Cuts can only occur on a 250-year rotation cycle;
- Management must be coordinated with the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and the Division of Wildlife to help protect state listed species; and
- Future recreational developments must be “low impact.”
DOF is proposing to dissolve all of these protections along with the BCMA designation, itself, in favor of a new "Intensive Management" zoning designation.
“This is a big and unfortunate development that would shortchange both the public and some of the state's most sensitive species,” said Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Ohio-based Buckeye Forest Council.
According to ODNR surveys, the Backcountry Area is home to numerous sensitive and state-designated threatened and endangered species, including the timber rattlesnake, the small whorled pogonia (flowering plant), the river redhorse (fish), the bobcat, and the eastern box turtle. Black bear may also be present in the BCMA.
The area borders Ohio’s only state-designated wilderness area, the 8,000-acre Shawnee Wilderness Area.
"How can state forest managers justify this wholesale reversal of protection? The state's own surveys confirm this backcountry management area is a refuge for several threatened species," said Jack Shaner, Deputy Director and Senior Director of Legislative & Public Affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council.
“DOF’s plan to dissolve the BCMA would open one of Ohio’s most ecologically sensitive areas to significantly more logging and road traffic and would remove protections for threatened and endangered species. Already, Ohio ranks a measly 47th in public land available per citizen. Our state has a desperate need for more wild, protected habitat – not less,” added Johnson.
Rather than dissolve the BCMA, state conservation groups are calling on DOF to instead double down and protect it with a wilderness designation.
“With September bringing the 25th anniversary of Ohio’s only state wilderness area and next year being the 50th anniversary of the Federal Wilderness Act, now is the perfect time for the State of Ohio to extend state wilderness protection to the Shawnee Backcountry Area,” said Johnson.
“This is the best time and the best place to expand our state’s protection of wilderness values,” said local resident Cheryl Carpenter. “The BCMA is like the twin brother of Ohio’s only existing wilderness area: it’s the same size, it has many of the same species and habitat types, and it’s in the same location,” added Carpenter.
“If you look at a map, the Shawnee Wilderness Area and the BCMA fit together perfectly like two puzzle pieces. The BCMA and its rare and endangered species are deserving of wilderness protection,” added Carpenter.
At some 60,000 acres, the Shawnee Forest is the largest of Ohio's 21 state forests. However, most of the Shawnee already is open to extensive logging.
“DOF has announced plans to sell 985 acres of logging rights in Shawnee this year,” said Bill Tipton of local forest group Save Our Shawnee Forest (SOS). “Not counting the protected 8,000-acre Wilderness Area, about 50,000 acres of Shawnee are today open to logging. If DOF continues its projected 2014 logging rate, the forest will be completely removed in about 50 years,” added Tipton.
DOF is holding an open house on its upcoming plans for Shawnee State Forest and the Blue Rock State Forest (see below) this Wednesday, July 31, from 4-7 p.m. at the Chillicothe District Office, 345 Allen Avenue, Chillicothe, Ohio, 45601.
For more information from DOF, call 740-774-1596. DOF is accepting written comments from the public on its plans for the BCMA at the event and for 30 days afterwards. Comments relating to Shawnee State Forest can be mailed to the above address or emailed to Forest Manager Nate Jester. The Shawnee management plan now up for public comment can be found here.
Feds Plan to Sell Mineral Rights to Frack Entire Blue Rock State Forest
In other news, Ohio conservation groups recently discovered that the federal Bureau of Land Management is planning to sell oil and gas leases under 4,525 acres of Ohio’s Blue Rock State Forest in December.
“This would put the entire forest under fracking leases,” said Johnson. Some 50 acres of the forest already have been leased in the past.
State conservation groups are unhappy that plans to open Blue Rock to drilling weren’t more widely shared with the public.
“As far as we know, neither the news media nor the public has been contacted directly by DOF or BLM on this issue, despite the expiration of a 30-day comment period” said Johnson. “We were surprised when we found the announcement buried on a BLM website late last week,” added Johnson.
According to state conservation groups, both the state and federal governments need to take a closer look at the science before deciding whether to lease the public forest to industry.
“Neither the feds nor the state have given any real consideration to what fracking Blue Rock might do to threatened and endangered species that live in the forest,” said Johnson.
"It's sad that ODNR apparently thinks extractive activities like logging and fracking are more important to Ohioans than enjoying and protecting our most precious natural spaces," said Jed Thorp, Chapter Manager with the Ohio Sierra Club.
“How does our Division of Forestry view the State of Ohio? Is it a place to reside and call home or is it an expendable piece of land for easy money?,” asked Eric Miller, director of Mohican Advocates, Inc.
“Alienating patrons by fracking and timbering the land set aside for relaxation and rejuvenation is nothing more than short-term profiteering. If Ohioans are to have a place worthy of sharing with future generations, DOF must plan for the future, not just for their pocketbooks,” added Miller.