The Wayne National Forest’s interest in proposing a name change may be well intentioned, or maybe not. While the Forest Service’s first choice proposal is to become the Buckeye National Forest, they do not mention the Shawnee name for buckeye, which is Hetuck (for “buck’s eye”). Instead, the one Indigenous name they mention is Koteewah. This is very alarming (and ironic) since it is a Miami word meaning fire. The Wayne has an extensive, very dangerous, and geographically/ecologically inappropriate practice of burning our forests under the guise of “oak restoration,” which is not supported by unbiased research. USFS also misuses pre-contact Indigenous fire practices as justification for these 21st century burns. In fact, the Wayne’s burn practices serve only logging industry goals and their own budget (due to federal fire money). These practices are destructive of the health of our forests, their inhabitants, and human neighbors and do not resemble likely pre-contact practices in SE Ohio.
There is no documentation of large-scale Indigenous burning in SE Ohio. The studies cited by the Wayne are from other regions and forest types where native flora and fauna are fire-adapted. Our forest flora (other than ridgetop oaks) and fauna are largely not able to survive fire. The Wayne does no pre- and post-burn surveys of impacts on species other than trees. Box turtles, for example, are known to be incinerated by USFS “prescribed” [sic] fires, which are now ignited from the air.
If an Indigenous name is chosen, Hetuck seems like a good one, recognizing the Indigenous connection to our state tree without making an absurd and inappropriate connection between Indigenous practices and what the Wayne is unfortunately doing to our public forest.
Heather Cantino, Athens
Steering Committee Chair, Athens County’s Future Action Network (ACFAN)
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