I was fortunate my parents enjoyed camping before camping was cool. Even during the Second World War, we would get away for a few days with our tent and blankets - sleeping bags weren't readily available. Later our vacations consisted of seeing much of the country, camping as we went. Sometimes my father would ask permission to camp in a farmyard if no national forest or state park were available.
Ohio state parks were the gold standard to which my parents would compare facilities in other states. With only one or two exceptions, Ohio won in the comparison during that time period.
Taxpayers were supportive of acquisition of land for parks and for building the rustic (sometimes primitive) facilities that made camping such an adventure. The state budget included these projects and the parks were heavily used by picnicers, hikers, and campers. Some swimming facility, usually a lake, was often available but woodlands with well-kept trails were a special draw.
Perhaps that is why I am so shocked at H.B. 133, which proposes to allow drilling for oil and gas in our state parks. Why would anyone do that to our parks whose woodlands are now 60 years older and better than they were then? How will people learn how Ohio woodlands differ from Michigan or Arkansas woodlands? How will visitors be able to learn about wildlife? watch birds native to the area? learn native plants?
These are pertinent questions because make no mistake about it - such activity will change those woodlands forever.
A sponsor of the bill told me that the Department of Natural Resources said the drilling could be done "safely". The definition of "safely" varies, doesn't it? BP was sure their drilling in the Gulf was safe last year. Neighbors of Marcellus/Utica wells who no longer are able to drink their well water heard similar reassurances. Such wells probably can be drilled "safely" with the right safeguards but it is unclear whether Ohio has the will to regulate an industry so supportive of the current government.
However, "safely" in the context of drilling in state parks (or state forests or other state lands) has an entirely different meaning.
If we have learned anything about forest ecology, it is that when there is severe disturbance, Non-Native Invasive Species (NNIS) will become established and the character of the forest will change drastically. Both the species mix and the structure will be forever altered. If burning bush, privet or bush honeysuckle seed is available nearby, the usual scattered shrubs along with the ground or herbaceous plant layer (also known as wildflowers) will be replaced with continuous shrub layer. It is not difficult to find examples of this on private and public lands. Often the land was infested with NNIS when the land was acquired but it is a huge and very expensive job to try to restore native woodlands.
A well-site requires a road and often an oil or gas line - all of these disturbed areas can add up. One Marcellus site in Pennsylvania had a total of 36 acres disturbed. This provides lots of edge which is an invitation for brown-headed cowbirds that parasitize nests of woodland warblers and other birds. Tree-of-heaven will replace maple trees along the well-roads and in the site. The same legislator asked me what difference it would make to Ohioans whether there were maple trees or t-o-h. Apparently it didn't occur to him that our native wildlife, including birds, eat seeds of native trees and nothing much, if anything, eats tree-of-heaven seeds.
I fear this is seen as only an aesthetic issue and that is not the case. If native plants are replaced by garlic mustard, Chinese silvergrass or tree-of-heaven, native insects and larger forms of wildlife will also be affected. Short-sighted management has led a number to species to be designated as Endangered, Threatened or Rare species in the past but the reasons were not recognized for a number of years. The research has been done - the probable effects are known and it is foolhardy to turn our backs on science.
H.B. 133 would destroy what tax dollars were spent to protect.
What kind of people are we to sacrifice our natural heritage and deprive our grandchildren of that precious web-of-life in order to extract a little more oil or gas from the earth?
There is still time to let your state representative know how you feel about H.B. 133.
Marilyn Ortt of 701 Colegate Drive, Marietta, is a member of the Marietta City Tree Commission. Our Earth appears on alternate weeks in the weekend edition.