Lots of young people wearing coats outside near a forest at a fence with protest signs reading Up for Auction Our Wayne to the Highest Bidder

— Seven conservation groups have filed an administrative protest challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off 345 acres of Ohio’s Wayne National Forest for oil and gas fracking leases in March.

The protest, filed late Tuesday, notes that the leases would lock in dangerous fracking in the Wayne. Despite known threats from hydraulic fracturing, the BLM planned the auction using only a cursory review that avoids site-specific analysis of potential harm from fracking operations.

That means the public will have no information about pollution risks to streams, eradication of endangered species habitat and harm to nearby communities, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The Bureau of Land Management is unlawfully cutting corners in its push to develop the Wayne. Our protest filing is intended to rein in the agency,” said Nathan Johnson, attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council. “The Wayne is one of Ohio's finest natural treasures, plain and simple. It deserves to be protected from heavy industrial development.” The auction comes after the U.S. Forest Service announced plans to revise its 2006 forest plan governing land management in the Wayne. Conservation groups last year sued the Forest Service and the BLM, which oversees drilling and fracking of federal oil and gas. The lawsuit says federal officials relied on the outdated plan and failed to analyze threats to public health, water, endangered species and the climate before opening 40,000 acres of the Wayne to fracking.

“There are very few vestiges of wilderness left in Ohio for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. Ohio's only national forest should be preserved, not plundered for private industry profits,” said Jen Miller, director of Ohio Sierra Club. “We call for the stop of all fracking and pipeline activities, and for a robust, transparent process to revise the forest 2 management plan in a way that maximizes wildlife protections and recreational opportunities for generations to come.”

“The Wayne is being opened up to fracking pollution based on a dangerously outdated management plan that ignores major risks,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The lack of transparency in this process is disturbing. The Forest Service needs to listen to the public and spare Ohio’s only national forest from fracking industrialization and contamination.”

Clear-cutting for well pads, roads and other infrastructure would reverse decades of forest and watershed recovery in the Wayne and destroy habitat for endangered Indiana bats and threatened northern long-eared bats. The bats are already imperiled by forest fragmentation, white-nose syndrome and climate change. Pollution from fracking operations, explosions and spills would damage water supplies that provide drinking water for millions of people. Since 2016 the BLM has auctioned off more than 2,300 acres of Wayne National Forest.

Three lease sales have used “determinations of NEPA adequacy,” sometimes known as DNAs, which avoid any analysis of site-specific environmental harm before leasing public lands to industry. Conservation groups have mounted administrative or legal challenges to these lease sales.

“In a time of accelerating climate change, biodiversity loss, and air and water pollution crises, this action by the supposed stewards of our natural resources is unconscionable,” said Heather Cantino of Athens County Fracking Action Network. “Wayne and BLM justifications for this action are not based on science or the public interest, which by law they must be. Today’s protest stands up for the law and the rights of the American people.”

The Trump administration recently issued a directive calling for expanded use of DNAs for fracking leases on public lands across the country. That directive effectively excludes the public from the public-lands leasing process, shortens protest periods to just 10 days from 30 days, and restricts BLM staff from deferring industry-nominated land parcels from lease sales to protect sensitive resources.

“It’s extremely disappointing that, after all of the climate disasters of 2017, the Bureau of Land Management is still choosing to sacrifice our National Forest for fossil fuel industrialization,” said Becca Pollard of Keep Wayne Wild. “BLM should instead focus on the forest’s natural ability to absorb greenhouse gases while providing habitat for wildlife and wild places for people to visit.”