September 12, 2000

C.U. Groups Fight for National Forest

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The Cornell Greens and the Society for Natural Resources Conservation (SNRC), fear that drilling in the Finger Lakes National Forest, in nearby Hector, N.Y., to install oil wells and build roads will cause environmental damage.

A year and a half ago, two companies approached the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asking to lease land for oil and natural gas exploration.

The proposal has prompted a chorus of complaints defending New York’s only national forest. The comments are directed toward the National Forest Service (NFS), the government agency in charge of granting the BLM permission to lease the land to private companies.

“We think the forests are worth much more standing than cut down or disturbed by resource extraction,” said Jesse Strock ’02, president of SNRC.

The Cornell Greens and SNRC held a rally last Wednesday afternoon and performed a skit to inform the community about the proposal. The groups also collected 200 signatures on a petition which they brought to a meeting in Hector, “so that we can say a significant amount of people are opposed [to the proposal],” said Julie Baribeau, ’02, president of the Cornell Greens.

At the three and a half hour informational meeting last Thursday night at the Logan-Hector-Valois fire hall in Hector, N.Y., speakers from the NFS and BLM addressed questions from a crowd of approximately 50 people.

Among angry locals who criticized the effects oil wells would have on the landscape were fifteen Cornell students, Strock said.

A facilitator from the Cornell Center for the Environment opened the meeting and introduced the National Forest Service representatives, who explained the roles of the government agencies, the timetable for the analysis, and regulations and policies they must follow.

The Bureau of Land Management manages the sub-surface resources. Before it can lease the land to private companies, the National Forest Service, which oversees the surface resources, must grant its consent, said Martha Twarkins, District Ranger for the National Forest Service.

And before the NFS gives its consent, it needs input from the public.

“There are components that go into a decision, and the public is one of those components,” Twarkins said.

Until now, the NFS has been collecting public commentary on the proposal through letters and meetings. That public input will now be incorporated into an Environmental Impact Statement, a report which examines the possible implications of leasing the land to a company, Twarkins said. The EIS will also include alternatives to the proposal and their potential consequences.

A third party contractor, hired by the NFS, will write the EIS. Members of the contractor group sat in on last Thursday’s meeting as well.

“They’re not doing this in a vacuum,” Twarkins said, noting the influence public commentary has on the EIS.

“The Forest Service works very close with the EIS contractors and reviews steps along the way,” she added.

Upon completion in January, the NFS will share the first draft with the public and ask for more feedback. The final draft will hopefully be completed six months later, Twarkins said. The NFS will make its decision on whether or not to allow the BLM to lease the land based on the results of the Environmental Impact Statement.

If the BLM then decides it wants to lease the land, it will invite companies to bid and give the lease to the highest bidder. The private company would then be authorized to look for resources, but before it can drill, it would first have to perform a “site-specific analysis.”

A law passed in 1947 authorizes that federal lands are accessible for natural resources production.

Still, environmental groups remain opposed to the idea of land extraction in New York’s only national forest.

“These are our national forests, and the people should decide how they are to be used,” Strock said.

“How could we just ignore this?” Strock asked.

Archived article by Heather Schroeder