Melanie Houston, December 13, 2016
Today the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began auctioning off parcels of the Wayne National Forest for future oil and gas development. This morning the agency ran an online auction with an average bid of $89/acre.
Over the next 20 years, the BLM has plans to lease nearly 40,000 acres of the Wayne. If this plan is allowed to unfold, Ohioans will see their only national forest spoiled with air pollution, noise pollution, and forest fragmentation. It will also mean that one of Ohio’s most special outdoor playgrounds will be at risk of chemical spills and accidents like the 2014 chemical fire and explosion at a fracking well pad just a few miles up the road from the Wayne National Forest. And, as horrifying as that is, the federal government is taking the first step down this path today.
As it turns out, if the BLM goes through with their leasing plans, the federal government will have leased nearly 33% of the Wayne for oil and gas development (with 40,000 acres already being under lease for vertical well development). Most of this leasing will occur in the Marietta Unit. So despite it being the smallest of the three Wayne NF units (at 60,000 acres of public land), the Marietta unit will be the most affected. Close to 80% of the Wayne’s Marietta unit could end up being turned over to oil and gas interests.
So why has the BLM decided to lease up to 80% of the public lands in the Marietta unit? One might think that this section the Wayne doesn’t have as much to offer as the others. But as it turns out, the Marietta unit is filled with numerous outdoor recreation opportunities, special protected areas, and several natural and historic landmarks. There are 6 campgrounds with 42 campsites in addition to boating, fishing, horseback riding and ATV trails. There are also a number of hiking trails, including a portion of the North Country trail, which is a scenic trail that runs all the way from New York to North Dakota.
The Marietta Unit of the Wayne is also home to one of Ohio’s seven natural bridges, and several covered bridges that are a major part of Ohio history. As if that were not enough to deem it worthy of protection, there are seven special areas in this unit that are filled with rare, threatened, or endangered plants and animals or with special landscape features like the waterfalls at Fly Gorge.
Finally, we’ve compared BLM’s map of parcels of land they intend to auction off over the next 20 years to the maps of all the recreational opportunities in the Wayne. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. There are multiple places where the land they plan to auction off overlaps with a camping site or a hiking trail, and every single one of the designated “special areas” is located near a future development area.
With a growing body of research suggesting there are serious health risks associated with living, working, or playing near fracking operations and a U.S. Geological survey study documenting the negative impacts of fracking on a forest’s plant and animal populations, the BLM’s assessment that fracking poses “no significant impact” is unsupported, to put it mildly.
Unfortunately, what is happening right now in the Wayne is that the interests of a few have been guiding federal decision makers. But Ohioans who know and love the Wayne are raising their voices. In just the past few months, over 92,000 people have weighed in to oppose the lease sale and to express support for protecting the Wayne. The OEC is on the side of the public. We are committed to using every legal avenue at our disposal to protect Ohio’s only national forest.
Join us today by sharing this article, and by calling on the Obama administration to stop this lease.