Ohio’s national forest to change its name (Updated)

The forest service announced on Monday that it had proposed a name change for the Wayne National Forest per “requests from American Indian Tribes and local community members.”
A large Oak tree stands in the foreground of a southeast Ohio forest scene.
Nathan Johnson / Ohio Environmental Council

NELSONVILLE, Ohio — The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a name change for Ohio’s only national forest due to the violent history associated with the man for which it was named.

Wayne National Forest comprises several different tracts of land totaling 244,000 acres across 12 counties in southeastern Ohio.

The forest service announced on Monday that it had proposed a name change for the Wayne National Forest per “requests from American Indian Tribes and local community members.”


Wayne National Forest is named for Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who, according to the forest service, left a “complicated legacy [that] includes leading a violent campaign against the Indigenous peoples of Ohio that resulted in their removal from their homelands.”

That history makes Wayne an unsuitable eponym for the forest, the forest service said in a press release. 

The forest may become ‘Buckeye National Forest’ instead, named for the state tree and Ohio’s “Buckeye State” nickname. The moniker was suggested to the forest service by American Indian Tribes, according to a press release announcing the change. Other proposed names included Ohio National Forest and Koteewa National Forest.

“Koteewa,” an Indigenous word pronounced koh-tae-wah, translates to “fires” in English, Wayne National Forest Supervisor Lee Stewart said. 

“We consult with federally recognized tribes with ancestral ties to Ohio, and there’s about 31 different tribes,” Stewart said. “That’s a big list. Lots of tribal nations through time passed through Ohio — not just Ohio but the Ohio River Valley.”

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Of the 31 federally recognized tribes, 10 participated in the consultation process, said Wayne National Forest Operations Staff Officer Dawn McCarthy. The consultation process has taken place over the past 12 to 18 months, Stewart estimated. 

According to McCarthy, the 10 federally recognized tribes who participated in the consultation process, all descendants of the 12 signatory Tribes of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, were: 

  1. Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.
  2. Shawnee Tribe.
  3. Delaware Nation.
  4. Forest County Potawatomi.
  5. Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.
  6. Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
  7. Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
  8. Mille Lacs Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (Ojibwe).
  9. Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.
  10. Osage Nation.

Tribes have been concerned about the Wayne’s name for more than a decade, Stewart said. It’s not until the past couple of years through a federal engagement initiative “around offensive and derogatory geographic names” that Wayne specifically came up.

“And that kind of initiated this for us,” he said.

Request for feedback

The U.S. Forest Service is holding a 15-day public engagement period, which began on Monday. Members of the public may share their thoughts on the proposed name change via email at r9_wayne_website@usda.gov. The period will end Sept. 5.

Stewart and McCarthy stressed that the forest service wants to hear from the public.

“We do appreciate active engagement,” Stewart said. “We’re asking folks that however they feel about it — they don’t like it — we would love to hear from them. And we encourage them to participate.”

McCarthy added that the name change does not require a public comment period, but the national forest wants to know what local communities think about the name Buckeye.

After the comment period, the forest service will review feedback and make a recommendation to the secretary of agriculture, who may authorize the name change.

“We’re not making this decision. All we’re doing is collecting data, and making a recommendation,” Stewart said. “Once the 15-day period is up, we’ll reassess Buckeye and assess what we’ve heard, and then either continue on with the recommendation … or maybe we reassess and change [it] … We are going to consider what people say.”

More on Wayne

It is unclear why the forest was named after Wayne in the first place.

“We cannot find any records that explain why the national forest was named after Anthony Wayne,” McCarthy added in an email. “Throughout its history, the national forest has been referred to as the ‘Ohio National Forest,’ ‘Wayne-Hoosier National Forest,’ and ‘Wayne National Forest.’ The earliest records we have refer to the planned national forest in southeast Ohio as ‘Ohio National Forest.’”

Wayne commanded American forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in northwestern Ohio in 1794. The battle was the final conflict between the newborn United States and a British-backed confederacy of tribes in the Northwest Indian War, fought in and over the Northwest Territory

The American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers resulted in the aforementioned Treaty of Greenville, which opened the land that would become Ohio to American settler colonialism and the removal of its native people

The Ohio Environmental Council issued a statement in support of the forest service’s decision to change the Wayne’s name.

“Ohio’s public lands should be welcoming to all,” said OEC Southeast Ohio Regional Director Molly Jo Stanley. “It is important to acknowledge and understand past injustices, and how the names of our public lands can either perpetuate exclusion and injustice or help heal those wounds. The name ‘Wayne’ is associated with the U.S. government’s historic and violent genocide of Indigenous peoples and their cultures.”

Stanley suggested that “more inclusive names can be drawn from Ohio’s Indigenous and natural histories.” 

“We encourage continued engagement with Native American tribes, and careful consideration of their voices in matters impacting federal public lands in their traditional homelands,” Stanley said.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the first tract of what would become the Wayne National Forest was purchased in 1935, reserving 105,000 acres. It officially became the Wayne National Forest in 1951. The land has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years.

The Independent has reached out to tribal representatives and will have more on this story soon.

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