The Shawnee National Park & Climate Preserve, an Executive Summary
Situated at the juncture of five natural divisions, the Shawnee National Forest contains some of the most outstanding natural features found in Illinois, including 90 Illinois Natural Areas Inventory Sites, approximately 29,000 acres of designated Wilderness, four National Natural Landmarks, and a National Historic Trail (the Trail of Tears)1,2. At 289,000 acres in size, the Shawnee represents the largest single ownership of land in the state1.
Mature forests, including eastern deciduous forests, provide the best-known mechanisms available on land for mitigating climate change through sequestration and storage of atmospheric carbon3. The largest and best examples of mature forests in Illinois are found on the Shawnee. Studies now show that logging greatly contributes to the nation’s release of climate-changing carbon dioxide4.
The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, which manages the Shawnee, has issued decisions to commercially extract timber off more than 9,000 forested acres, with more logging proposals in various planning stages. Future exploratory drilling for oil and gas is a distinct possibility for the Shawnee1,2.
The USDA Forest Service manages natural communities with a mandate of sustaining “productivity5,” while the National Park Service has a mandate to preserve natural and cultural resources as “unimpaired6.” Creating the Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve would involve an Act of Congress to transfer this existing federal land out of the US Department of Agriculture’s oversight and into that of the US Department of Interior Park Service.
The National Park Service System Plan identifies numerous gaps of unprotected and underrepresented natural resources and ecosystems that should be considered when new areas are being proposed for addition into the national park system7. The Shawnee contains several such natural resource components and ecological functions. The Shawnee’s central location along the Mississippi Flyway coupled with its diverse natural communities,8 provide important stopover habitats for migratory bird species during migration. The Shawnee’s varied geology, differing aspects, and its mild climate, also contribute to its rich plant and animal diversity. These unique natural resource components support key ecological functions in a variety of ecosystem types, which should help fill some underrepresented natural resource gaps for future units of the National Park System7.
National Preserves are areas often associated with national parks, where Congress permits expanded recreational opportunities, including continued public hunting, trapping, fishing, and backcountry camping, among other traditional uses9.
A National Climate Preserve is a new concept of preserving land where forests grow as intact ecosystems, free from CO2-releasing activities such as logging, mining, and drilling. This “proforestation” approach encourages carbon sequestration and storage, helping to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels, thereby reducing climate change3, while continuing to provide ample recreational activities. The Shawnee deserves to be the 64th National Park and the nation’s first Climate Preserve.
Proposed Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve
1. Shawnee National Forest Website, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/shawnee
2. Land and Resource Management Plan, Shawnee National Forest, USDA Forest Service (2006), Appendix D. Special Features, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/shawnee
3. Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change…, W.R. Moomaw, et al., Frontiers in Forests and Global Change (June 2019), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/ffgc.2019.00027/full
4. Running Backwards: A Report from John Muir Project and Center for Sustainable Economy (Sept. 2021), C. Hanson & J. Talberth
Strategic Forest Reserves…, Communications Earth and Environment, B.E. Law, et al. (Dec. 2021), https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-021-00326-0
IPCC, Climate Change 2022, Impacts, Adaptation and Variability, Summary for Policymakers, WG II, 6th Assessment Report of the IPCC. SPM.D.4 (pg. 34), https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/
5. National Park Services System Plan (2017), Mission Statement, https://parkplanning.nps.gov/NPSSystemPlan.cfm
6. USDA Forest Service Mission Statement, https://www.fs.usda.gov
7. National Park Services System Plan (2017), Chapter 3: Potential for Greater Preservation, Additional Natural Resource Gaps (pg. 76), https://parkplanning.nps.gov/NPSSystemPlan.cfm
8. A Classification and Description of Plant Communities in Southern Illinois, M.A. Guetersloh, et al (1994)
9. National Park Service Designations, https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/designations.htm
For More information on the proposed Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve
Contact John Wallace at email@example.com