A coalition of 11 Pennsylvania environmental groups is urging the state to create a more formal public participation process when it comes to major land use decisions involving state forests, such as leasing mineral rights for oil and gas development.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is currently finalizing an update of its State Forest Resource Management Plan. The document is a strategic road map for the DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.
A letter from the Save the Loyalsock Coalition urges DCNR to model public participation on the federal government’s process. The coalition includes groups such as PennFuture, PennEnvironment, the PA Forest Coalition, and Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter.
“We recommend that the Department institute a version of an environmental impact analysis process similar to the one used under the National Environmental Policy Act,” the groups write. “Such a process would allow for public participation and ensure that all environmental impacts of a proposed action are accounted for and evaluated.”
Current and former state officials have said they were unprepared for the Marcellus boom and that they were subject to political pressure to lease land to raise revenue. After nearly 500 angry people packed a 2013 DCNR meeting on drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest, the department said it did not keep a record of their comments.
“Having a formal process on the books would help to ensure transparency and the ability to try to insulate this process from political whims,” says Joanne Kilgour of the PA Sierra Club.
So far the plan has received more than 4,000 comments, according to DCNR spokesman Terry Brady.
“The Bureau of Forestry has a variety of ways it considers public input, such as the State Forest Resource Management Plan, public comment process, numerous advisory committees, various stakeholder meetings at the district level, and the annual publication of District Activity Plans,” Brady wrote in an email. “We have received comments regarding public participation, and we will be considering such comments.”
The public comment period closed January 31st. The plan is expected to be completed this spring.