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What you need to know about the Ohio legislature’s attack on state parks and forests

While unprecedented attacks on national parks and forests are happening in our nation’s capital, threats to public lands don’t stop at the federal level. Ohio’s state parks and forests are also at risk. Earlier this month, the Ohio House of Representatives added an amendment into the state budget that will fast-track oil and gas development on state public lands like the Hocking Hills State Park and Mohican State Forest. As you read this article, a debate about the future of public lands in this country is taking place. Who wins this debate will determine whether or not the natural places that make our nation and state special are here for future generations to enjoy.

Here are the five things you need to know about this proposal and how to stop it.

1. This budget amendment is the latest in a recent line of attempts to open state public lands to oil and gas development.

The Ohio Legislature laid the foundation for oil and gas leasing in Ohio’s parks and forests 6 years ago. Back in 2011 the Ohio General Assembly passed a law that centralized all of the state’s leasing authority in an Oil and Gas Leasing Commission.

Despite this legislation, leasing of state public lands has been on administrative hold. Governor Kasich never took the required steps to appoint members to the new Oil and Gas Leasing Commission. As a result, leasing of state parks, state forests, and state university lands has effectively been off the table.

The newly introduced amendment would strip the Governor of his or her ability to appoint the members of the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission and give that power to the Ohio legislature.

2. The Leasing Commission has the authority to lease all state-owned lands except nature preserves.

The implications of this proposal are far-reaching. State parks and forests would be open to heavy development, but so would any other state land other than state nature preserves (which enjoy an exemption).

3. The proposal would further jeopardize Ohio’s already struggling forests.

Ohio ranks near the bottom of the 50 states for public lands available per capita. Forests in the state (both public and private) are young and often lack the rich and diverse habitat characteristics provided by older forests. The Ohio Division of Forestry’s 2010 Statewide Forest Resource Strategy document states that the lack of old forests in Ohio is a “threat to biodiversity.” Only 3.3% of all forest canopies in Ohio are greater than 100 years old.

Our public lands are limited, they are recovering, and they are a precious resource on so many levels. Opening them to pipelines, methane flares, and well pads is the last thing we should allow. Ohio has the potential for majestic old forests, more and better outdoor recreation venues, and a robust ecotourism industry. Sacrificing these opportunities for a quick buck would be foolish.

4. Our window of opportunity to stop this giveaway of public lands is closing quickly

The Senate version of the state budget bill is being introduced on June 12. If this amendment is in that version of the budget, Governor Kasich’s veto will be the only hope of stopping the effort to sell out our state lands to oil and gas companies. The issue will be fully decided by June 30.

5. Love for our public lands is a shared Ohio value

Ohioans overwhelmingly support conserving and protecting our public lands. In fact, over half of the state enjoys the outdoors by visiting state and local parks, and in 2016 several rural communities even voted to raise taxes in order to expand protections for their local parks.

Show your legislators that you’re paying attention. It takes just a moment to send a message to your state senator.

Also, consider joining our #TakeAHike campaign. Take pictures of your favorite park or forest, organize a hike with your friends and family, and let your lawmaker know that you demand greater protection for Ohio’s outdoor gems. Learn more here.