COLUMBUS - Environmentalists accused lawmakers yesterday of trying to take advantage of increased demand for natural gas and oil drilling on state lands to step up logging in Ohio forests, parks, and nature preserves.
A Senate bill, set for its first hearing tomorrow, would create a committee to consider proposed leases of public land for drilling or timbering. The revenue generated would go toward a capital fund for new visitor centers, park cabins, land preservation, and other capital projects.
Environmental groups already opposed to the idea of drilling on state land and under Lake Erie are particularly suspicious of the timber proposal. Logging has not been discussed during House hearings on rising home heating bills, which have led to new pressure for natural gas and oil drilling.
"There is little if any consideration for the public's interests," said Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council. "We're targeting our most treasured parks, nature preserves, and state lands for wide-open, full-throttle logging, as well as oil and gas drilling. It takes the state out of the driver's seat on deciding where this should occur."
The group cited the Maumee State Forest, Maumee Bay State Park, Crane Creek State Park, and Goll Woods State Nature Preserve as potential targets because they're heavily wooded or because natural gas fields have already been found nearby.
There are a limited number of gas and oil wells currently on state property, most of which were there before the state acquired it. While open to expansion of drilling, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources opposes adding logging to the mix.
"As stewards of forest resources, we practice good forest management that involves cutting down trees to make the woodlands healthier and more productive," department spokesman Jim Lynch said. "Given the complexities in the forest industry, such as the emerald ash borer and other problems, the areas for forest management are carefully selected."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeffrey Armbruster (R., North Ridgeville), said the bill would give loggers a more proactive role in securing leases, allowing them to make their own proposals rather than wait for the state to approach them. He said the bill would not lead to the clear-cutting of state forests.
"We certainly came out of the budget process with an understanding that [state government] divisions need dollars," he said. "If we are able to get dollars this way, we can make the capital improvements and buy more land for our children in the future. I think we deserve to take a look at it."
House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said he won't rule out adding logging to the House version being drafted, but he said he doesn't see the same urgency witnessed with natural gas and oil.
The Ohio Forestry Association, representing about 700 sawmills and manufacturers of furniture and other wood products, is backing the bill.
"The urgency is not the same as for natural gas and oil, but there is a continual demand for wood, so much that we in Ohio go outside the state in order to satisfy that demand," he said.
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