COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a proposal in August for Ohio’s sole national forest to undergo a name change, after pleas from Indigenous tribes — and to the protest of Sen. J.D. Vance and other GOP legislators.
Wayne National Forest, nestled in the western Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, could soon go by Buckeye National Forest, according to an Aug. 21 announcement from the department’s forest service. The proposal stemmed from “requests from American Indian Tribes and local community members,” the agency said.
The forest is named for General “Mad” Anthony Wayne — his demeanor earning him that nickname — who served as a Revolutionary War officer in the Continental Army. After the war, he served in Congress before returning to the military.
That return was largely to militarize against Indigenous tribes as the United States expanded its reach westward. In 1794, Wayne and the soldiers he commanded marched on Fort Miami, located about 200 miles north of the national forest, burning Indigenous towns along the way because of their unwillingness to attack the British fort.
“Wayne may be a Revolutionary War hero to some, but he is also the main villain in our story of resistance,” said Logan York, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma’s tribal historic preservation officer. “This National Forest is ours as much as those who consider Wayne a hero.”
The Miami Tribe is one of nearly a dozen federally recognized tribes that participated in months of discussions about changing the forest’s name.
“We, as Tribal Nations from Ohio, are working together to seek a name for the Forest that moves from celebrating this man to celebrating Ohio for all Ohioans,” York said in an emailed statement.
Buckeye National Forest came as one suggestion on a shortlist from the tribes, said Lee Stewart, Wayne’s forest supervisor. Other suggestions included “Ohio National Forest” and “Koteewa National Forest,” but the agency settled on a proposal for Buckeye.
It’s relatively rare for a national forest to change what it goes by, Stewart said. The most recent renaming he could remember was through an executive order by President George W. Bush’s administration in 2007 — renaming the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico to El Yunque National Forest.
A 15-day public comment period, announced with the name change proposal, yielded feedback from more than 1,000 people. “The public discourse has been excellent, and we appreciate it very much,” Stewart said.
Vance (R-Ohio) weighed in by writing a letter on Aug. 24 to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Randy Moore detailing why he was against any sort of a name change.
“If we look back 230 years, virtually every single major person that we look to for guidance, that we look to as a person of admiration, they’re going to have things about them that we don’t like,” Vance said in an interview with NBC4.
On Friday afternoon, Reps. Troy Balderson, Bill Johnson and Brad Wenstrup — who come from the three Congressional districts in Ohio that contain the forest — penned their own letter to Vilsack and Moore focusing more on the 15-day public comment period.
“While we have general concerns with removing Anthony Wayne as the namesake of the forest,
and whether it is worth the $400,000 price tag, we would like additional information as to why,
after 70 years, the decision to rename the forest was done with little to no community
involvement,” the letter read.
Wayne National Forest is currently in the process of sorting through public comments. The final decision rests with Vilsack, Stewart said, and Stewart thinks it will come in weeks, rather than months or years.