“This is a fight, make no mistake,” said a man in the back row. “This is a fight against evil forces based on greed.”
More than 700 acres within the forest are on the table for the latest controlled burn proposal. Normally such burns are only allowed until April 15, but the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry may be given an extension on this date until April 30 this year.
“They could still get a permit. Right now this is the most pressing issue,” said Cheryl Johncox of the Buckeye Forest Council, who was also in attendance.
Complaints were also made about the escape of fires from the 2009 prescribed burns, which Save Our Shawnee Forest also tried to curtail.
“We have tried so many things in the past to stop these (prescribed burns),” Johncox said. “We have postponed but never stopped them. We can’t seem to get a politician on our side, but we should not give up.”
There were 25 people at the meeting, many of whom spoke up to express specific areas of concern about dangers to the ecosystem within the forest. A list of 29 different issues was compiled.
“It’s not just the prescribed burn issue,” said activist and meeting moderator Barbara Lund, who said she does not consider herself a spokeswoman for SOSF, merely one of its members.
The wide-ranging list of specific issues included: air pollution from burning forested areas, soil erosion and flooding, littering, tourism, changing the ecosystem, concern for firefighters’ safety, and the protection of endangered plants and animals and their habitats.
“The Indiana bat was never found (in Shawnee Stater Forest), but due to their habits, no doubt they are there,” Johncox said.
Johncox proposed that attorneys might be enlisted to assist the group, with the potential presence of endangered plants being a potential leverage point to stall efforts for controlled burning and logging efforts.
Deforestation because of clear cutting and logging was also a major concern at the meeting.
“A conversion to a certain amount of biomass usage is required by the state as an alternative fuel source, “ Lund said. “What they want is not bark and twigs because of the smoke and pollution it makes. What they want is pure wood, and we have to make sure they don’t come to Shawnee Forest to get it.”
One man shared his concern for the nearby 13,000-acre Brush Creek State Forest in Scioto and Adams counties. Johncox said that the timber industry in the area was engaged in merchandising, a practice where trees are cut and stacked along the sides of roads, then sold to the highest bidder.
“The money is another thing we ought to find out about,” Lund said. “We might be just giving away our forests.”
Drilling for natural gas on state lands, and where the money from the sale of that gas would go, was also discussed as a concern for those present at the meeting.
Lund said the park has only six employees now, compared to 54 in years past, and that the budget was being cut by 17 percent. Some of those present expressed concern there might be too few park personnel to effectively oversee all the necessary functions of running the park.
“Save Our Shawnee Forest can’t work on all these issues and particularly not all at once,” Lund said.
One man advocated for total protection of the forest to prevent any of the activities that were discussed that might harm the natural environment. Some discussion was made about the possibility of having the area named a national park where many of the logging activities would not then be allowed.
“I do not feel that I have stopped anything, I have only delayed it. If you want something changed, change the law,” Lund said.
This was the first meeting for Save Our Shawnee Forest in about two years. The group voted to meet again in a month, and several people said they hope to have politicians or public officials attend. The exact date and time of the next meeting is yet to be decided later.
HEATHER DUMAS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 241, or hdumas@