Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002

NY Public Lands:

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 areas.

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 surrounding communities.

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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