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Forest Service Misdeeds on Shawnee National Forest

The Forest Service on the beloved Shawnee National Forest has lost its way. The management philosophy made famous by founding FS Chief, Gifford Pinchot, “the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time,” is all but forgotten. The recent agency decision to deny six objections submitted by individuals and on behalf of Friends of Bell Smith Springs, Shawnee Natural Areas Guardians and Shawnee Forest Defense!; to log, build roads and herbicide hundreds of acres near Kinkaid Lake with the Waterfall Project, is but one example of this bureaucratic amnesia. Coupled with agency intent to charge user fees at day use sites such as trial heads, picnic areas and boat ramps on the forest, underscores this ethical lapse.

The upcoming Waterfall Project to log 405 acres of majestic hardwoods and 80 acres of recovering mixed pine/hardwood forest, under the guise of “forest health,” is as absurd as it sounds. This so called pilot project will end up serving a few, for a short period of time and at the expense of the greatest number. It also involves 3 miles of road building as well as herbicide use, to poison invasive plants and unwanted trees destined to take over the newly scarred logging sites. It will take place along steep slopes and highly erodible, loess soils near Kinkaid Lake. This exploitation of our public, natural heritage will prove as outrageous, the agency’s claims of “restoration.” The popular Buttermilk Hill Trail is in the midst of the Waterfall project and will likely become a corridor for skidders or forwarders to haul out some of the massive logs, destined for sawmills. The majority of the Waterfall project is within the watershed of an important recreation and municipal water source lake. Even though the agency acknowledges erosion will occur and herbicide residue will wash down the slopes, their claim that it will have a negligible impact on nearby streams and Kinkaid Lake is less than reassuring. This mistrust is based on history and recently documented damage from heavy handed practices by a less than transparent FS bureaucracy.

The agency will “sell” the public’s majestic oak trees at bargain basement prices, likely to an out of state logging company. The FS will also pay the contractors to bulldoze roads for their own use by semi-trucks and heavy equipment, destined to wash out once the contractor has left the site. The large project area (including trails) will be closed to public use, hiding the ongoing damage. All this will be done at a staggering deficit, while heavy log truck use will create local traffic problems and degrade county roads.

Adding insult to injury, the FS relies on working class people to continue funding such industrial tree extraction on the Shawnee via hard-earned tax dollars and now expects folks to fork out $5 every time they park a car at sites such as Bell Smith Springs and Little Grand Canyon. The impetus behind founding the national forest system was the continued obliteration of forests and watersheds on a national scale, by a relatively young timber industry at the turn of the 20th century. Logging companies have since shown they cannot be trusted with our natural heritage.

The beauty and recreational value of the forested hills and waterways within the Shawnee National Forest are the very attributes which set the region aside from the rest of Illinois. The Southern Illinois economy lags behind the rest of the state, yet government funding to sustain infrastructure for recreation and tourism in the region, has drastically declined.

In the face of impending climate catastrophe, scientific studies now prove the superior ability of undisturbed forests in sequestering carbon, thereby mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. These lands were not set aside for a few, as playgrounds for the wealthy; nor for industrial convenience. They were designated the Shawnee National Forest, were protected and reclaimed to benefit the most for the longest amount of time. Forest Service officials must recapture Pinchot’s original doctrine by prioritizing recreational access, by keeping trees upright and by keeping irreplaceable soils in


John Wallace

Shawnee Forest Defense

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