Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002
Citizens Unite: Grassroots Victory
Against Forest Service Oil & Gas Drilling Proposal!
...but the Fight's Still on
in the Finger Lakes
By Garrett Meigs, Forest Watch Coordinator,
Finger Lakes Forest Watch Congress
Just over the New York border, on a rolling ridge
between New York's two largest finger lakes, rests the Finger Lakes
National Forest - a small, fragmented, yet peaceful forest with
expansive views of fjord-like lakes and glacial valleys. For more
than two years, citizens have fought hard to protect this local
and national treasure from a Forest Service proposal to lease our
public land for oil and natural gas drilling.
The Forest Service released its Draft Environmental
Impact Statement (DEIS) in May of 2001 identifying five alternatives
for land use and associated disturbance activities. The "no
action" alternative was the only option that did not threaten
the integrity of this already fragmented forest and its unique ecosystems.
All the others called for logging of drill pads, pipelines, and
new road areas, exposure of numerous sites to toxic tailings and
other drilling-related wastes, increased noise and air pollution
from anticipated trucks, and new road-building which would put local
municipalities in debt while eroding sediment into watersheds of
both Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, water supplies of major population
In response to the DEIS, the Finger Lakes Forest Watch
Congress (FLFWC) held numerous public meetings, rallies, and forest
appreciation days, collecting thousands of signatures and public
comments demanding no mineral extraction from the forest. All the
people who know, love, and use the forest for its beautiful trails,
scenery, and other recreation opportunities and ecosystem services
spoke out for the forest and formed a community-based grassroots
movement and collective voice that could not be ignored.
In November of 2001, Congress passed legislation that
banned leasing of the Finger Lakes National Forest for oil or gas
extraction until October of 2002. This significant decision was
a direct result of many strong citizen voices, and it was a direct
statement to the Forest Service. In December, the Forest Service
released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record
of Decision (ROD), choosing the no action alternative, specifically
stating the forest was not leased due to the overwhelming number
of public comments submitted in opposition to the drilling proposal.
Because of the continued vigilance of committed citizens,
the Forest Service made the right decision for the forest and the
community. This time, the forest was saved.
Many sincere thanks to all the dedicated citizens
who enabled this victory for the forest!
Currently, the Forest Service is revising the Land
and Resources Management Plan (LRMP) which directs management and
land-use for the forest over the next 15 years. Although the forest
is safe for now from oil and gas related disturbance, FLFWC is hoping
to make sure that drilling will not be a potential land use in this
LRMP. In addition to working with the Forest Service developing
future options, citizens have been busy exploring the forest, selecting
areas to be managed for future old growth and other special features
including endangered and locally threatened organisms.
Finally, the political arena is active once again
as a bill in the house right now, H. R. 3460, would permanently
ban drilling activity in the Finger Lakes National Forest.
You can help us by contacting your U.S. representatives
and telling them that you support a permanent ban on drilling in
the Finger Lakes National Forest. With your help, we can continue
to protect our valuable forest ecosystems for ours and future generations.
For the LRMP, public comment periods will be coming
up soon. Any support is greatly appreciated by the forest and its
Please contact the Finger
Lakes Forest Watch Congress with any questions or comments
Photo courtesy of Finger
Lakes Forest Watch Congress
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