LANDS

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - Mre­nault@dis­patch.com @Mar­i­onRe­nault

streaked by paths for log­ging equip­ment and 18-wheel semi­trail­ers.

Tip­ton, a lo­cal for­est ad­vo­cate, gave one word for how he felt sur­vey­ing the site.

“Sick,” he said. “Will some­thing grow back? Ab­so­lutely. But it will be dif­fer­ent.”

In Ohio and across the coun­try, po­lit­i­cal clashes have re­newed de­bate over whether in­dus­try and con­ser­va­tion can co-ex­ist on pub­lic lands — from na­tional trea­sures such as Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Utah to swaths of Ohio’s Shawnee State For­est.

In the past few years, plans to log and frack in Ohio’s state and na­tional forests have drawn the ire of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who are call­ing on of­fi­cials to pri­or­i­tize bio­di­ver­sity, re­cre­ation and car­bon se­ques­tra­tion in pub­lic wild spa­ces.

Ohio ranks 14th among the 50 states for pri­vate forest­land, ac­cord­ing to state and fed­eral data, with some 88 per­cent of its wood­lands owned pri­vately. Ohio lands in the bot­tom third na­tion­ally for both its to­tal acreage of forest­land and its share of pub­lic forests.

State of­fi­cials are man­dated by law to man­age the 200,000 acres spawned by Ohio state forests for a range of uses such as re­cre­ation, wildlife habi­tat, soil and wa­ter pro­tec­tion and sus­tain­able tim­ber pro­duc­tion.

Ram­pant eco­log­i­cal threats — cli­mate change and in­va­sive species chief among them — have only ex­ac­er­bated the pres­sure.

“There’s so lit­tle pub­lic land in Ohio and so much de­mand for it. Every­one’s guard­ing their piece of it,” said Bill Stan­ley, di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion for the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy in Ohio and a mem­ber of ODNR’s For­est Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil.

Divi­sion of Forestry Deputy Chief Greg Guess said Ohio’s 21 state forests are man­aged to suit a range of uses.

“They’re not just for re­cre­ation. They’re not just for tim­ber man­age­ment. They’re not for one use over the other,” Guess said.

In the past decade, the Gen­eral Rev­enue Fund has ap­pro­pri­ated less and less money to the Forestry Divi­sion — down a third from $7,169,125 in 2008 to $4,755,587 in 2017. Yet in 2017, the divi­sion raked in more rev­enue, about $5,080,000, from its tim­ber har­vest. Bill Tip­ton, spokesman for Save Our Shawnee For­est, sur­veys an area of the for­est that has been logged. For years, Tip­ton and other mem­bers of the group have been try­ing to pro­tect ar­eas of the for­est from log­ging and frack­ing.

ODNR spokes­woman Stephanie Leis said that even as the state’s man­age­ment plans have called for smaller har­vests, cur­rent lum­ber mar­kets have helped log­ging rev­enue al­most dou­ble in the past 10 years. The state cleared about 2,600 acres in 2014 and only 1,600 last year.

“They spend more time on those ac­tiv­i­ties (like tim­ber sales) that will keep their bud­get bal­anced,” Stan­ley said. “It’s al­ways been some­what of an is­sue, but it’s be­come more pro­nounced.”

While 35 per­cent of the money from tim­ber sales re­turns to the forestry depart­ment, the re­main­der is di­vided among pro­grams, schools and lo­cal govern­ments in the coun­ties where log­ging takes place.

Guess said the tim­ber

har­vest in state forests is pri­mar­ily guided by for­est health. The state avoids cer­tain ar­eas be­cause of wildlife, wa­ter qual­ity or re­cre­ation con­cerns and re­quires con­tracted log­gers to have cer­tain forestry train­ing and, in some cases, use spe­cial­ized equip­ment to min­i­mize im­pact.

“We don’t set out to cre­ate X amount of dol­lars. We set out to do the right thing for the for­est,” Guess said.

That hasn’t warded off con­tro­versy.

Since 2016, the Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment has auc­tioned off more than 2,300 acres of Wayne Na­tional For­est for oil and gas frack­ing leases — lead­ing to protests and an on­go­ing law­suit filed by a con­sor­tium of con­ser­va­tion groups.

The state’s forestry divi­sion also faced pub­lic re­sis­tance last year when it pro­posed com­mer­cial log­ging in the Mo­hi­canMe­mo­rial State For­est and plans to peel back old­growth pro­tec­tions in the for­est’s south­ern half.

In var­i­ous pock­ets of Shawnee State For­est, grass­roots groups are con­duct­ing one-day bioblitzes — dis­patch­ing ex­perts and vol­un­teers to au­dit and doc­u­ment an area’s rare and threat­ened bio­di­ver­sity — in or­der to build cases against log­ging pro­pos­als.

Tip­ton and other Save Our Shawnee For­est mem­bers are still hold­ing their breath to see whether their work is enough to undo the state’s post­poned plan for an 84-acre tim­ber sale in the up­per por­tion of the for­est’s Rock Run wa­ter­shed. In that case, the state has in­def­i­nitely de­layed log­ging but has yet to fi­nal­ize an in­de­pen­dent botanist’s re­port and make a fi­nal de­ci­sion about the area’s fu­ture.

Some, like Dave Ack­er­man, chair­man of the Ohio Sierra Club’s for­est and lands com­mit­tee, has some reser­va­tions about the ef­fec­tive­ness of pub­lic out­cry against har­vest­ing in state forests.

“They need to in­crease their log­ging ac­tiv­ity to make up for lost rev­enue,” Ack­er­man said. “Things like bio­di­ver­sity tend to get in the way of that.”

Ohio has a sto­ried past with its forests.

In the early 1800s, up­wards of 95 per­cent of the state was forested. Within a cen­tury, early set­tlers stripped the state bald, leav­ing it with a mere 10 per­cent for­est cover. To­day, less than 0.4 per­cent of for­est stands in the state are older than 140 years, ac­cord­ing to ODNR.

De­bate over how to han­dle Ohio’s forests is noth­ing new, Stan­ley said. But those dis­cus­sions have heated up as the Trump cab­i­net con­tin­ues to make sym­bolic and con­tro­ver­sial changes to fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

In the year since his swear­ing-in, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke has pri­or­i­tized min­eral and en­ergy pro­duc­tion on pub­lic lands. Among other steps, he has pro­posed rolling back pro­tec­tions on na­tional mon­u­ments and opened por­tions of the U.S. coast to off­shore drilling — parts of Alaska’s Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

“The Depart­ment of the In­te­rior is the stew­ard and man­ager of Amer­ica’s nat­u­ral re­sources, which in ad­di­tion to na­tional parks and graz­ing lands also in­cludes oil, gas, clean coal, hy­dro, so­lar and other re­new­able en­ergy sources. Be­ing a good stew­ard of our land and re­sources does not mean lock­ing it up,” Zinke wrote in an ed­i­to­ri­alin the Wash­ing­ton Times last May.

Ack­er­man said he wor­ries that Ohio — with its pro­lific Utica Shale nat­u­ral gas wells and cen­tral geo­graph­i­cal po­si­tion — has emerged as the new, hur­ri­cane-free Gulf Coast.

“(In­dus­try) sees the gates are open and they see ev­ery­thing there for the tak­ing, and they’re go­ing to get ev­ery bit they can,” he said.

In a few weeks, a fresh cur­tain of buds and leaves will hide Shawnee State For­est’s bald spots from the pub­lic — many of whom don’t real­ize log­ging is a le­gal and com­mon prac­tice there, Tip­ton said.

But wher­ever he goes in the for­est, Tip­ton said, he can al­ways spot a nearby sec­tion that’s stripped by har­vest­ing.

“I try to stay pos­i­tive be­cause this is a beau­ti­ful place,” he said. “If I was go­ing to be cyn­i­cal, I would say our pub­lic lands aren’t re­ally pub­lic land any­more.”

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