As far as we have been able to determine, a link to a single PDF document on BLM’s website was the only notice given for the sale. No maps, no hearings, no explanations.
There is no evidence an actual conspiracy of silence existed, but whether it was planned or incidental, the public had no real opportunity to be informed or to weigh in on what will happen to these public lands.
Perhaps someone in the government simply wanted to avoid the inconvenience of dealing with the “Not In My Back Yard” — NIMBY — resistance that would be expected.
We feel the public has a right to be informed and to respond to any planned development that could affect the environment or quality of life. When it involves public land, especially, there is no excuse for silence.
Environmental groups sounded the alarm about the planned sale of leases on tracts that appear to run alongside a watershed in Calhoun County and are perilously close to popular recreation sites in other parts of the forest. On their own initiative they organized public meetings to educate the public about the proposals and to express their particular objections to a type of oil and gas exploration called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
They gave examples of disastrous consequences of fracking in other parts of the country, and also expressed concerns about threats to endangered species. Congressman Mike Rogers heard those concerns, asked for the delay, and challenged BLM’s public notice procedures.
Unlike national parks, national forests are intended to be multiple-use lands, including harvesting of trees, extraction of minerals and recreation. Those are competing public interests regarding the use of the land. It seems only fair that those interests would be considered on a level playing field. That hasn’t happened.
The leases in Alabama are being delayed to belatedly allow for a greater exchange of information. Nothing was said about how long the delay would be, or how a better process of notice and comment would be handled. We’re hoping it will be a fair and open — and well-publicized — process. Land leases scheduled next week for land in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi will go forward as planned. The public outcry in Alabama was successful in at least getting a hearing for local concerns.
The NIMBY crowd just might have something to say that needs to be heard.