• 45°

WNF looking for input on Buckeye Habitat Improvement Project

A proposed project by the Wayne National Forest in the Ironton Ranger District is the cause of concern for locals near the area.

The Buckeye Habitat Improvement Project is in the area east of State Route 93 and west of State Route 141, north of Aid and south of Oak Hill and within Jackson, Gallia and Lawrence Counties. The purpose of the project is to create diverse wildlife habitats by creating early successional hardwood and pine forests, creating an herbaceous/shrub habitat, improving forest health, restoring and maintaining the oak-hickory, enhancing wildlife and plant microhabitats and improving fire regime condition class by means of logging and prescribed burns.

“What we have out right now is a proposal,” Tim Slone, WNF Ironton District Ranger, said. “The next step is that we’ll be taking comments and public input from stakeholders. That will be part of our analysis over the next few months.”

If the project were to eventually go through, it could take up to 20 years to complete and would include areas where there are horse and hiking trails. The area of 54,970 acres includes an estimated 25,986 acres of National Forest System (NFS) land and 28,983 acres of non-NFS land in the Ironton Ranger District. A similar project is already taking place on the ATV trails of the area.

The Wayne National Forest Ironton Ranger District is approximately 100,000 acres in total.

While the Wayne National Forest also says that the project will support local economies, community activist Jill Romanello from the Elkins Creek Horse Camp strongly disagrees, as her business and livelihood depend on those trails.

“There’s a large amount of investment in these trails, and they are going to come in and log and shut the trails down,” Romanello said. “I’m not against logging, but do it in the right areas, not in populated housing, business and recreational trail areas. All of the money spent in the area goes back into the community and recreation tourism accounts for a lot of money. There needs to be a balance.”

The Elkins Creek Horse Camp is a half a million dollar investment that was established by Romanello’s fiancé, Rick McCleese, and brings tourism to the area from across the country generating money back into the community.

In a letter Romanello wrote to the Lawrence County Commissioners, she states that the project would have a massive impact on the community, recreation and tourism.

“The safety and the economics of the community are at potential stake,” Romanello states in the letter.

Yearly road slippages, flooding, the already poor road conditions that would worsen with logging trucks and equipment, potential closings of horse and hiking trails for up to six months causing business to suffer, noise, destroying the endangered bat habitat that keep mosquitoes in control and prescribed burns causing residents to stay in their homes are just some of the reasons why Romanello is against the project as well as the negative effects of logging.

“This is the only national forest where the ATV and horse trails aren’t open year round,” Romanello said. “It doesn’t support local economies when the trails are closed and when they close for long periods of time during the project.”

Romanello also said the Elkins Creek Horse Club volunteers have donated many hours of trail maintenance and trail building, totaling 5,000 hours last year alone. The Lawrence County Horseman’s Council has put in many hours over the years as well.

Slone said the project is about improving the forest as a whole and that it will be very beneficial in the long run.

“There are 49 miles of horse trails and what we are proposing only affects seven percent of the horse trails,” Slone said. “There are a lot of economic benefits to what we’re proposing. It’s important for us to serve our public well and we’re always looking to mitigate issues. There will be some people for it and some against it.”

The public can give input on the Buckeye Habitat Improvement Project by Tuesday, May 26 by mailing comments addressed to Tim Slone, Forest Supervisor, at Wayne National Forest Ironton Ranger District, 6518 State Route 93 Pedro, OH 45659. Email comments can also be sent. The email address is on the Wayne National Forest website. Make sure that all letters and emails state that it is about the Buckeye Habitat Improvement project and include your name, address and opinion.

Slone said after all comments and input are in, forestry officials will go over everything and make an analysis. There will also be another opportunity to give input after the first round is reviewed.