Most states have set aside areas to preserve what the land used to be like before the coming of the Europeans. A place that’s as close to its original character as possible… A pristine tract of nature for campers, hikers, and bird/animal watchers alike to enjoy and cherish in the midst of industrialization… Ohio has one such unique place – Wayne National Forest.
The Bureau of Land Management scheduled an auction this month to lease out 33 parcels of land, spanning 1,600 acres in Ohio’s one and only national forest, to oil and gas companies interested in hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Ohioans didn’t take the threat to their beloved national forest lying down. Phone calls, post cards, letters, emails, and petitions were presented to state and federal authorities. Peaceful protests and numerous videos of “the Wayne” were made to share this threat of destruction with the rest of the world. The beautiful images of unsullied Appalachian woodlands received pledges of support and overwhelming cries of outrage at the thought of how fracking-induced earthquakes, particulates, and wastewater could easily obliterate the fragile ecosystem of the forest. (Even the Environmental Protection Agency agrees; it recently released a report that confirms how the fracking process poses numerous threats to clean water.)
The Athens County Fracking Network‘s Heather Cantino herself sent 45 studies on the impact fracking could have on air, water, climate, endangered species, and local economies to U.S. Forest Service Eastern Regional Director Kathleen Atkinson. A petition against auctioning the land, garnering more than 99,000 signatures, was presented to the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C., as well as to Ohio Senators Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) and other state and federal agencies.
“It’s one of the many outcries from the public saying that it’s just wrong for the federal government to be promoting the extraction of minerals from public land, especially coal mining and fracking. When over 90,000 people weigh in from all over the world, not just Ohio, that’s an outcry from all over to say climate change is an issue that must be dealt with,” says Roxanne Groff, also a member of ACFAN.
However, on December 13, the U.S. Forest Service decided oil and gas money was more important than Ohio’s trees, clean streams, fresh air, and wildlife. The five corporations who purchased the fracking leases at auction all come from out of state. Oil and gas leases of 719 acres netted over $1 million dollars, while other parcels are still under dispute as to mineral rights ownership. Neither Ohio senator spoke out in support of the area activists to protect the Wayne. Considering the large sums of money given to these establishment candidates’ campaign chests from the oil and gas industry, this news isn’t particularly surprising.
Ohio’s last piece of untouched wilderness will no longer remain untouched. But the supporters of Wayne National Forest aren’t giving up.
“We are not backing down. We are not stopping. We will continue to raise this as an issue. This is where I’ve lived and I will not walk away from it,” says Andrea Reik, area resident and ACFAN member. She hopes lawsuits filed by national groups, along with environmental impact studies, will eventually convince the courts that the Wayne is too precious a resource to be used in such a manner.
Why can’t we save the Wayne? We could, but it seems our government simply won’t.
Once it is gone, there will never be any place quite like the Wayne ever again. Surely something this precious is worth saving? The short term profits of greedy oilmen have taken precedence over our planet’s long term health and our children’s heritage. The recent actions of our government siding with Big Oil, both in Ohio and in North Dakota, demonstrates our government isn’t of the people, by the people, and for the people–it exists only for the betterment of the oil barons.
Isn’t it time we stop this shortsightedness, before we all go the way of Wayne National Forest? Save the Wayne–save the people!
Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues blog: http://bernie2016.blogspot.com