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A protester holds a sign that reads "Frack Our National Forest? No Wayne" during a protest in Grover Hall on September 10.

Local residents, students occupy Forest Service meeting over fracking concerns

About 30 Ohio University students and Athens County residents occupied Saturday’s National Collaboration Cadre Workshop, held in Grover Center. They occupied the workshop to protest the possible fracking in Wayne National Forest.

In 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the purchase of land for oil and gas drilling purposes, according to a previous Post report. Since then, the federal government has gone back and forth considering developing a fracking plan.

The workshop, coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service and themed “Working Together to Improve the Quality of Life in Southeast Ohio,” invited dozens of groups from around the Wayne National Forest area to discuss topics ranging from economic development to forestry and wildlife issues.

The occupiers asserted that the invitation-only event excluded members of the community who wish to participate in environmental conversations, particularly about fracking.

“While we are completely supportive of the inclusion of community groups in the U.S. Forest Service’s decision-making process, we believe that sitting down with the oil and gas industry is not in the best interests of our community,” the Appalachian Ohio Group of the Sierra Club said in a news release.Although occupiers were not invited to the meeting, they were permitted to take part in the workshop’s group discussions once they arrived, and some participants in the workshop supported their cause.

“I think (the occupiers) should be here,” Roxanne Groff, a Bern Township trustee, said. “They have a voice.”

While conversations turned to fracking, occupiers were still not satisfied with the discussion that happened.

“Obviously this decision (to frack) has already been made,” Caitlyn McDaniel, a first-year graduate student at OU, said. “It’s not a democratic process.”

Some local residents and business owners also came without invitation. Madeline Ffitch, a Millfield resident and landowner, said the occupiers were showing the U.S. Forest Service they would show up when those discussions are being had, regardless of invitation.

“The Forest Service is making decisions (and) having closed-door meetings,” she said. “The anti-fracking sentiment (in the community) has been overwhelming.”

Mimi Morrison, who owns Touch the Earth Adventures in Hocking Hills, said she worries about the effect fracking would have on the land around her.

“I utilize the natural area of Southeast Ohio,” she said. “I came today because I’m aware that providing a sustaining environment does not go along with fracking. … This is a gift that we have here.”

Members of the workshop and employees of the U.S. Forest Service remained hopeful that conversations could continue. Jason Reed, an Athens Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said the purpose of the meeting was to continue to collaborate on many issues and oil and gas issues were not a primary focus.

“What we’re interested in is learning to work better together,” Reed said. “People need to understand this is their national forest.”

Maret Pajutee, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee and part of the Collaboration Cadre, said she had no problem with occupiers participating in the workshops.

“We heard 'Show up, listen and follow through' (from the community),” she said. “(There’s) been enough progress made that about 60 people donated their Saturday to talk about ‘how can we get along?’ ”

About five total officers were on site from the Ohio University Police Department and the U.S. Forest Service.

Despite the desire for collaboration, many occupiers remain unconvinced, including Samuel Holman-Smith, a freshman studying history.

“It’s not even a collaboration,” he said. “It’s, ‘We already made this decision, how do you feel about it?’ ”

Abbey Marshall and Maisee Fried contributed to this report.


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