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Public comments on Wayne’s future

What does the future hold for the Wayne National Forest?<!—->.

Friday, January 25, 2002

What does the future hold for the Wayne National Forest?

Officials of the U.S. Forest Service want the public to have input as it looks to revise its Land and Resource Management Plan. Through a law enacted by Congress, these plans have to be revised at least every 15 years. The Wayne’s current plan, approved in 1988, is about to expire.

Last night, the forest service held its third and final public meeting at Ohio University Southern Campus in Ironton. The purpose of the meetings is to give individuals the opportunity to speak about topics they would like to see the plan’s revision address. Public meetings also were held in Nelsonville on Tuesday and in Marietta on Wednesday.

Mary Reddan, forest supervisor, said revising the plan will be a lengthy process and the public meetings are "just the first step in a long journey." The plan, she said, will address subjects such as preservation of habitat and endangered species, recreational uses of the forest and the extraction of natural resources, such as timber, oil and natural gas.

All of these topics were raised by the individuals who chose to speak Thursday.

Environmental issues were what Chad Kister of Athens said the main focus of the plan should be, particularly wilderness restoration. He said timber harvest has "left us with a very barren landscape" which is "not conducive to the species" which inhabit the forest. He noted the forest service should also concentrate its efforts on preserving endangered species and designate wilderness areas throughout the forest.

"This will draw tourism, which would create more jobs than (timber) extraction," he said. "People do not want to walk through an industrial nightmare."

By this, he was referring to the drilling for oil and gas, coal mining and logging.

Another sharing Kister’s views was Brenda Norris of South Point. Though she said her health don’t allow her to utilize the forest like she once did, she would like to be assured it will be there for many years to come for her children and grandchildren.

She said the forest was "once a national treasure," but "it’s not any more." She said she believes it can regain that status if the forest service puts an end to timber harvesting.

"I believe we can get back to a wilderness state," she said.

Diano Circo, also of Athens and a representative of the Buckeye Forest Council, says he would like the forest to take a look at the big picture through an "interdisciplinary study." He said it is hard to manage a forest without complete knowledge of the resources, and such a study could cover everything from recreational uses of the forest to species surveys.

William Qualls of Ashland, Ky. owns land that borders the forest in Symmes Township. He feels the forest service should address the abundance of off-road vehicles – such as ATVs – that are used in the forest for recreational purposes, calling them "the poorest things we can allow in our forest." He added he is not against logging"if it’s done the right way," but is concerned about the lack of money the forest service gets in return for harvested timber.

He also suggested the forest service take a more aggressive approach when it comes to publicizing the public meetings, saying if they are announced more often and earlier there would likely be more people attend them.

Chris Ashley of Ironton, an avid mountain-biker, said the forest needs to look at opening more trails for biking. He said the horse trails at the forest are not suffice for the pastime, and added more trails could lead to more tourists. This, he said, would help the county’s economy.

"People don’t realize how big (mountain biking) is," he said, adding the Wayne has "a big tool that is not being utilized at this time."

Kenny Knoll, president of the Scioto County Chapter of the Ohio Horse Council, said the "equine community" uses the forest a lot and wants to see the horse trails maintained. He said he would like the forest service to make sure the money generated from the fees horsemen pay for using the trails is used for trail maintenance and creating more areas designating for horseback riding.

Mike Baines, district ranger of the Ironton station of the Wayne, said he was pleased with the interest shown in the forest.

"You’re here because you think it’s important," he said. "A gentleman once said ‘the greatest threat to Democracy isn’t tyranny, it’s apathy.’ You folks aren’t apathetic."

Bob Gianniny, land preservation manager for the Wayne, said the forest service will study the current plan and suggestions generated from the public meetings and "see what changes can be made and see what we want to keep (in the plan)."

After determining needs for change, the forest service expects to publish a Notice of Intent with the Federal Registrar by April of this year. From there, the forest service will analyze data and compile and publish a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, expected by December of 2004.

After that, another series of public hearings will be held to allow for additional comment. The Final Environmental Impact Statement should be recorded by October 2005.

Written comments will be accepted until Feb. 1. They may be mailed to Forest Plan Revision Team, Wayne National Forest, 13700 U.S. Route 33, Nelsonville, Ohio 45764 or sent via email (r9_wayne_website@fs.fed.us)