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Groups criticize forest plan

Two environmental groups have determined the U.S. Forest Service’s 15-year plan for the Wayne National Forest is detrimental to the Southern Ohio ecosystem, economy and residents.

“We were asked to look at the (plan) to see if the public benefits are maximized,” Christine Glaser, partner in Greenfire Consulting Group, LLC, said. “We were able to look at past expenditures and we saw that there are no net public benefits with regard to logging, timber, mining and off-road vehicle trails.”

Heartwood, an environmental group based in the Midwest, objected to the 2006 forest plan and hired Greenfire to weigh the costs and benefits.

Gary Chancey, the public affairs officer for the Wayne National Forest, said the plan does benefit the public.

“We manage our forest for multi-purposes and we care about our forest and taking care of it,” he said.

“We live here, too, in the community with everyone else. We want to make sure it remains in good shape.”

The Forest Service plan called for almost 70,000 acres to be burned in the next 10 years, Glaser said.

The plan also calls for logging oak trees, which provide expensive timber, Glaser said.

She said construction of more off-road vehicle trails are in the plan based on the assumption that the trails will provide a safer environment for riders.

Glaser said there is no evidence of a direct correlation between legal trails and off-road vehicle injuries, but there is proof of increased air pollution caused by off-road vehicles.

Greenfire claims there will be future costs to the public because of the effects of the plan.

Glaser said, for instance, trees provide a filter system for water. She said Greenfire determined the amount of money it would cost to build a water filtering system and placed that value in the revenue category.

The Forest Service had not considered many factors and justified their methods, Glaser said.

She said the Forest Service justified logging and mining as means of providing employment.

“We found that logging is a very insignificant part of the local areas,” Glaser said. “In most of them, (logging) makes up less than one percent or there isn’t a number at all. Mining is a little more, but it does not provide a large amount.”

Glaser said logging, mining, burning and off-road vehicle trails are not beneficial to the forest or appealing to vacationers.

“If you treat the forest like the Forest Service Plan wants to, it is not beneficial for recreation,” she said. “Most people look for something peaceful and (those activities) are not peaceful. Based on studies, most people want to hike and look at landscape and wildlife.”

Glaser also said people want to stay close to home for vacations because of high gas prices and recreation can provide employment.

Greenfire recommended Wayne National Forest ban off-road vehicle riding.

McDermott resident Ryan Lute who has been riding at Wayne National Forest for seven years and recently started taking his 12-year-old son said he strongly opposes an off-road vehicle ban.

“That’s crazy,” he said. “I hate to hear them talk about not riding at Wayne National. The state sells them to us. They have to provide a place to ride. We pay our taxes and we pay to ride here.”

Lute said there are not very many places to ride in Ohio and he would have to search on the Internet to find another location for him and his son to ride.

He also said Wayne National Forest is one of the best places to ride in the area, and he knows a lot of people come from different areas to ride the trails there.

Glaser said along with off-road vehicles, prescribed burning also disrupts soil. She said she has found some people agree with prescribed burning because they are afraid of wild fires.

“Wayne favors oaks and they are more fire-resistant,” she said. “We found very little danger, with the data we could find, in the Wayne Forest. The fuel would be the result of the logging, and there is a very small chance of catastrophic fires as in the West.”

Glaser said Greenfire believes Congress and the Forest Service are using people’s fear of wildfires to collect money and gain other support to make prescribed burning plans with justification.

“We are directing the results of the plan to people and Congress and hoping people take note and reconsider what they appropriate money for,” Glaser said. “This is our attempt to focus the attention of the public on the outcome.”

Chancey said Wayne National Forest employees are still open to suggestions and stressed that the plan will help Wayne National Forest continue to thrive. He also said changes will be made accordingly.

“We are welcoming any groups to get on the grounds to talk about suggestions or to educate them on our practices. We love face-to-face time with organizations. They can see what were are talking about and we can see what they are talking about,” he said.

Chancey said the 15-year plan was approved and is in the implementation stages.

“The public was able to give input and we heard from groups that made recommendations and we considered them,” he said. “ We are putting it to work. In 10 years, we will start looking for revisions and come up with a new 15-year plan.”

Glaser said Greenfire will continue to work to urge people to support changes in the plan.

“We think something could happen,” Glaser said. “Congress and Forest Service can still respond.”

Jim Bensman, the forest watch coordinator for Heartwood, said his group will continue to monitor Wayne National Forest and work to gain support.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on Wayne National Forest for over a decade,” Bensman said. “We’ll still keep pushing for its protection. (We will use) all legal means, try to use public participation processes and legal processes to make sure the Wayne National Forest is protected.”

Bensman said Heartwood hired Greenfire because it suspects the Forest Service is only interested in the monetary value of the wood Wayne National trees have to offer.

“We wanted to get a view that takes into account all the values of the forest instead of treating it like a tree factory,” Bensman said.

The Wayne National Forest 15-year plan can be found at www.fs.fed.us.