More than 50 anti-fracking protesters endured the cold Saturday morning to speak out against the impending auction of Wayne National Forest land for the extraction of natural gas.
Students, residents and community leaders gathered outside the Wayne National Forest headquarters along Route 33 in Nelsonville, standing by the roadside with signs while temperatures lingered in the mid-20s.
On Dec. 13, the Bureau of Land Management will auction off 33 parcels of land spanning 1,600 acres in the Wayne National Forest to lease to oil and gas companies interested in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, according to a previous Post report.
Several cars and trucks honked their horns while driving along Route 33 when they saw the protesters, who chanted things such as “Save the Wayne, stop the pain.” Elizabeth Bolen and Julie Kronenberger, both Columbus residents, brought drums and provided a beat, and sometimes a song, for demonstrators to join in.
Saturday’s demonstration came after months of emails, phone calls and organization by local leaders such as Heather Cantino and Roxanne Groff, both members of the Athens County Fracking Action Network.
Cantino encouraged people to keep emailing Kathleen Atkinson, the Forest Service’s eastern regional director, because Atkinson has the authority to cancel the auction and said through an assistant she would change her mind only if presented with new information.
“(Send) any study on fracking’s impact, anything significant – air, water, climate, endangered species, local economies,” Cantino said. “Since they haven’t evaluated any of those impacts, everything is new information. I personally sent 45 separate studies, each in its own email this week.”
Groff said, after all the planning and efforts to stop fracking in the Wayne, administrators said in a conference call that they are analyzing new information. A petition against the auctioning of the land had garnered more than 99,000 signatures, as of press time.
“They are feeling the pressure, and you know they’re feeling the pressure when they change the dialogue, when they give you a different answer than the one they gave you six weeks ago” Groff said.
Saturday’s demonstration remained peaceful and was organized by Kimberly Dawley, a Delaware resident who has promoted the cause by creating the hashtag #SaveTheWayne. A few uniformed Forest Service officers were present to establish “free speech areas” and ensure the safety of the protesters.
“This forest breathes, it’s alive. The creatures in it are alive,” Dawley said. “There are carcinogens in what they are going to inject for the fracking. They have no business taking our land and doing this.”
Pete Wuscher, an Athens resident, thought that a developed country like the U.S. should be further along in transitioning to clean energy and wanted to exercise his right to protect the earth.
“I’m just here standing on the earth, standing on a green planet,” Wuscher said. “It has a breathable atmosphere, and I believe I have a right to stand on it and help protect it, help make sensible decisions about how to protect it.”