Groups appealing WNF plan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

COLUMBUS — Three state environmental groups are voicing their problems with a new plan to manage the Wayne National Forest, saying that too much of the forest is opened to logging and that not enough has been done to protect endangered species.

The Buckeye Forest Council, Heartwood, and the Ohio Sierra Club filed an administrative appeal to the Land and Resource Management Plan, which would open 83 percent of the forest to logging.

“All over the country, citizens groups have been forced to challenge the forest service’s unjustified management practices,” said Brandi Whetstone, Executive Director for the Buckeye Forest Council. “The plan will deal a substantial blow to the Wayne National Forest by failing to protect important forest features and public recreation opportunities.

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Instead of using this opportunity to maximize protection for Ohio’s only national forest, the Forest Service has chosen to increase cutting against the people’s will.”

But Phil Sammon, public information officer for the Wayne National Forest, said that the groups are taking a sky-is-falling approach to a plan that is actually more conservative, in terms of logging, than the last one that was in place.

“They make it sound as if we’re going to log 83 percent of the forest, and it’s just false. It’s actually less than what we had as a guideline for the 1988 plan,” Sammon said. “All it means is that 83 percent of the land is suitable for cutting down trees if there is a project-specific, environmental need to do so. They like to link this directly to commercial logging, but the forest service has not done logging for commercial revenue for 15 years probably.”

In the plan, the forest service can log up to 1,800 acres per year, though Sammon said that they have rarely logged the maximum that they could. The forest official insists that logging done always has environmental reasons.

“One of the biggest things we cut trees for is to reduce the amount of fuel that’s available in the woods,” Sammon said. “And you guys in Ironton have seen, last spring, over 300 acres, last fall, 185-acre fire, and last March we had one that was around 150. The reason we’re getting these bigger fires in the area is because there’s so much more of a fuel load in the woods, dead or downed trees, or bunches of downed trees.”

Leigh Haynie, staff attorney for Heartwood, filed the appeal on behalf of the parties.

“The unjustified and illegal Wayne forest plan put forth by the U.S. Forest Service demonstrates the unbalanced priorities of the current administration.” Leigh Haynie said about Forest Service plans. “It is unfortunate that the Forest Service appears to be more interested in timber harvesting and ecologically harmful management practices than following environmental laws.”

The deadline for appeals has passed, there will now be 60 days for the Wayne representatives to compile a defense. That information will then be sent to the Washington forest office, which will have 100 days to review both the appeal and the

defense. At that point, the appellants can either file litigation, or take another course of action.