Athens residents could lose say in how public land like Wayne National Forest is used

The Bureau of Land Management will be auctioning off areas of the Wayne National Forest on March 23. During their first sale, the BLM earned over $1 million in profit. (Photo by Emma Howells)

Athens residents enjoying outdoor recreational activities could lose their say on how public land is used, thanks to a federal resolution making its way through Congress.

House Joint Resolution 44 would nullify Planning 2.0, an initiative under the Bureau of Land Management that aims to increase public involvement in planning for public land use. The initiative allows recreational hikers, bikers and others to submit comments and input to government agencies alongside industries, such as logging and mining.

“We want the ability to enjoy these public lands that taxpayers have purchased and have a responsibility for,” Andrea Reik, an Athens resident and environmental activist, said. “This is taking away what was given as public land. The way I read this, it’ll take away the opportunity for meaningful input, which is contrary to a democracy.”

Planning 2.0 was launched under President Barack Obama, and the House and Senate are planning to slash the initiative using the Congressional Review Act. If passed under the Congressional Review Act, not only would Planning 2.0 be nullified, but the BLM would be barred from creating a similar rule.

The resolution was introduced in the House on Jan. 30 and was received in the Senate on Feb. 8. It must pass the Senate and be approved by President Donald Trump before it is enacted.

“Given its approach to regional planning, the administration believes the rule does not adequately serve the state and local communities’ interests and could potentially dilute their input in planning decisions,” Davida Carnahan, a BLM spokeswoman, said in an email.

Beyond individual usage of public lands, outdoor recreational industries will take a huge hit if Planning 2.0 is nullified, Jessica Wahl, the government affairs manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, said.

“The biggest impact to recreation business is the uncertainty,” she said. “Without knowing what the landscape will look like in the future, it’s really hard to develop a business around public lands. You don’t want to put a bike trail that crosses eight oil rigs.”

Parcels of Wayne National Forest, the only national forest in Ohio, were auctioned off in December for oil and gas purposes. More parcels of the public land are slated to be sold in March, which could lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the forest. Planning 2.0 allowed citizens to submit comments and input during that process, Wahl said.

If the initiative was slashed, the fossil fuel industry would benefit greatly, Reik said.

“It all benefits the oil and gas industry,” Reik said. “If you follow the money, you see all these proposals of allowing coal ash into streams, and now opening public lands. It goes back to the fossil fuel industry and the money they’ve committed to candidates to support their industry.”

The outdoor recreation industry, which nets more than $646 billion a year, should be accounted for, Wahl said.

“We’re just going back to a crazy era where recreation wasn’t even considered to be a legitimate use of the land,” she said. “Now it’s one of the biggest uses of public land, and we need laws to account for that.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on March, 1, 2017.

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