Energy In Depth has met with many landowners who want to be able to lease their land for development in and around the Wayne National Forest. We’d like to highlight the testimony of Rebecca Clutter – who serves on the board of National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) Appalachia and is the founder of Landowners for Energy Access and Safe Exploration (LEASE) – to share the story of her experience at the Wayne National Forest Collaborative Cadre meeting. Press coverage of the meeting was recently highlighted in an article entitled, “Local Residents, Students Occupy Forest Service Meeting Over Fracking Concerns”. (emphasis added)
Testimony of Rebecca Clutter
On Sept 10, 2016 the Wayne National Forest staff hosted a Collaborative Cadre meeting of interested parties at Ohio University. The goal of this meeting was to “put citizen engagement and collaboration at the forefront of what we do on the Wayne National Forest” and to “improve relationships with a broad range of our neighbors” who represent “business, education, recreation, natural resources, and industry” from all three ranger districts.
Noting that the participants were heavily weighted to groups surrounding the Athens Ranger Station with little to no actual “neighbors” or landowners, and barely any representation from Monroe County, I asked to be included representing land and mineral owners from Monroe County, LEASE and NARO. Initially I was not permitted to attended, but eventually the US Forest Service allowed room for me and one other landowner.
We drove down to the meeting in Athens, Ohio on a Saturday, and respectfully participated in the cadre meeting. I chose to attend the oil and gas group. Initially the organization of the meeting was productive and respectful and was equally represented between the various factions. I found the distribution to be very fair and looked forward to the exchange of ideas on how, within existing law and Forest policy, we could come together on at least a few things moving forward.
However, that all changed when a group of fringe environmental extremists protesting outside the doors of our work session decided to “occupy” the meeting. With open doors, the Forest Service allowed them to join our group. This is appalling, as it took us weeks to have a seat in this meeting and had we known they would allow other participants, we would have had hundreds of landowners there.
What happened next was unbelievable.
The protestors completely hijacked any kind of collaborative effort. They shut down the National Cadre moderator for our group and then spent the balance of our time spewing incorrect data not based on reputable science, twisting well-established policy and legislation, and condemning private land and mineral owners. The extremist’s obtrusive presence caused our work-group to become completely dysfunctional and robbed us of the opportunity to work collaboratively within our framework. The occupiers even admitted that they had not read the proposed environmental assessment to lease minerals in the forest.
I had respectfully worked within the guidelines of the Forest to obtain a seat at the table, only to be condemned by activist protestors for privately owning land within the forest boundaries. They spent much time complaining how the Forest Service had not allowed for public comment despite the many Forest Service led many public meetings and several opportunities to submit written comment, all of which hundreds of landowners have actively and respectfully participated in.
These are the same groups pushing the ballot initiatives along pipeline routes. Their true goal is not to work together, but rather to fear monger for press coverage and to strip private citizens of their land and mineral rights. (Emphasis added)
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the discussion came when one of the activists revealed that she knew one of my property locations. As a result, the Forest Police officer escorted me to my vehicle as a safety precaution. I initially thought that this was likely an overabundance of caution. However, after the police left my vehicle, several of the fringe environmental extremists started circling my truck and I was tailed by one occupier for several miles of driving on my way out of the area. I later learned that this was not the first time that folks had been intimidated by several of these activists.
It is important for landowners to understand that our private property rights are trying to be taken from us, and the Keep It in the Ground occupiers will stop at nothing to strip us of our rights.
NARO and NARO Appalachia have been actively working to educate landowners on this topic. Energy in Depth was correct in exposing that these groups are well funded by out of state entities and outside organizations. As I witnessed firsthand, these fringe groups have proven that they are not beyond performing acts of public disobedience to attain their goals. (Emphasis added)