Illinois Locals Advocating for New National Park and Country’s First Climate Preserve

by Amy Myers
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Situated between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in southern Illinois is the near-300,000-acre Shawnee National Forest. In order to better protect this beloved and wild region, a group of locals has headed the effort to turn the national forest into a national park as well as the country’s first climate preserve.

Currently, Shawnee National Forest holds a variety of ecosystems, from oaks and hickories to wetlands and ridges. Under its current title, the U.S. Forest Service manages and maintains the 289,000 acres. This means that the USFS can cultivate the forest’s resources (in a responsible manner, of course), which typically translates to logging.

No one cares more about this area of their home state than John Wallace, Sam Stearns and Les Winkeler, the men behind the movement. By transforming the forest into a national park, the group of Illinois advocates hopes to protect the forest’s resources and eliminate logging altogether.

Conservationists Claim USFS Logging ‘Obliterates Everything’

While Wallace believes that the USFS does a fine job with planting new shortleaf and yellow pine saplings, their logging activity makes the effort moot.

“They go in with heavy equipment and obliterate everything. It destroys all the saplings and seedlings,” Wallace told The Southern.

“Every step of logging contributes to adding carbon instead climate change rather that mitigating climate change,” Stearns added.

The conservationist believes that if used properly, logging might be able to bring back more hardwood oak and hickory trees. But invasive organisms make it difficult for these trees to thrive. In addition, with whippoorwills on the decline, moths have also been taking a toll on Shawnee’s trees.

“If the idea is to restore natural hardwoods, but a few pines and leave them lay,” Wallace said. “We need keep the humus and leaf layer intact. It protects organisms like salamanders and insects.”

Illinois Group Says National Park Would Foster ‘Education and the Enjoyment of Future Generations’

With so much at stake, the national park advocates don’t believe that logging is a feasible activity any longer. As a national park and climate preserve, Shawnee would not be subject to any logging or extracting of resources. This is because the National Park Service aims to protect and preserve our natural areas and their resources, rather than manage and extract them. Shawnee would become our very first climate preserve, further protecting the resources in the region.

For Wallace and his fellow conservationists, this would help secure their beloved wildlands for future generations.

“What we look at as resources for extracting don’t save money or serve the public good or protect and preserve the forest. A national park would be available to foster activity, education, and the enjoyment of future generations,” Wallace said.