Gov. Corbett should not open more public forestland to gas drilling

As Gov. Tom Corbett prepares the state budget, there is concern
that he may allow additional leasing of state forest land for
natural-gas drilling. Approximately 700,000 of the 2.2 million
acres of state forest land has already been leased.

Last week, more than 40 sportsmen’s groups representing
100,000-plus hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts sent a letter
to Corbett asking that he not allow any more state forest land to
be leased for oil and gas development.

In a press release, Ken Undercoffer, president of the Pennsylvania
Council of Trout Unlimited, said if additional acreage is leased,
it could jeopardize not only the state forest system, but our
natural resources — as well as Pennsylvania’s strong hunting and
fishing heritage — all for a short term gain.

He’s right.

There are simply some places that simply shouldn’t be touched by
industry. We simply don’t need to open up every acre of public land
to gas drilling simply because there is money to be made.

Such a move not only puts state forests at risk, it also poses a
threat to an economy based on outdoor recreation.

“Hunting and fishing are big business in Pennsylvania each year,
more than $4.3 billion is generated from fishing, hunting and
wildlife-related recreation-much of which occurs in public forests.
State forests are hugely valuable to Pennsylvania. and we need to
do what we can to preserve them for the next generation,” said Don
Robertson, president of the Pennsylvania division of the Izaak
Walton League.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages
the state forest system, highlighted the risk in a 2010 study that
found leasing additional acreage would significantly impact the
character and egological integrity of state forests. That finding
led to former Gov. Ed Rendell placing a ban on additional leasing
of state forest land.

It’s a ban that should stick.

Industry and the environment rarely go hand-in-hand. It’s like
mixing water and oil, no pun intended.

Sure, there have been instances where gas drilling has been
conducted without major harm, that we know of, but there have been
plenty of nightmares as well.

The environmental record of the Marcellus Shale industry is
questionable at best, partly due to a lack of oversight from the
Department of Environmental Protection. Making the matter even more
disturbing is Corbett’s dismissal of the executive director of
DCNR’s Citizens Advisory Couuncil – a move that may further reduce
public oversight if gas drilling is expanded in state
forests.

There is enough land for the Marcellus Shale industry to lease
without having to encroach further into state forests.

Last August, Corbett took a kayak trip down the Susquehanna River,
paddling through the heart of gas drilling boom in Wyoming County.
At a press conference during the trip, Corbett remarked on the
natural beauty of the region.

Now, he has a chance to help protect it.

Corbett also spoke about the importance of Pennsylvania’s natural
resources to attracting tourism and boosting local economies.

That tourism will wane if the vast tracts of state forest land are
dotted with gas well pads.

Let’s hope that Corbett’s kayaking trip left a strong enough
impression so he doesn’t remove the drilling ban on state forest
land. If he does, then our state forests may resemble industrial
parks more than the wilderness areas they are supposed to be.

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Categories: Pennsylvania – Tom Venesky

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