Now that the 17-year injunction against logging has been lifted, the Forest Service has wasted no time in generating a rapid-fire succession of projects that include commercial logging of pines and hardwoods, spraying herbicides such as glyphosate over thousands of acres and scheduling burns for more than 15,000 acres of forest per year. Without close public scrutiny, the next projects could very well involve opening the forest to mineral or oil extraction. If you enjoy the Shawnee National Forest, now is the time to get involved.
Development of these new projects occur as we learn of the dire warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is the United Nations body directed to assess the science related to climate change. Over the next 12 years, we must do everything possible to slow rising temperatures in order to avoid catastrophic consequences. This is a global call for action.
What does climate change have to do with the plans for the Shawnee National Forest? Logging and thinning forests, whether for commercial harvest or restoration, cause a net loss of carbon to the forest ecosystem. According to research, during harvest or wood processing, 45 to 60 percent of the carbon stored in trees is released into the atmosphere. If burned in biomass burners, the release of stored carbon increases to 100 percent.
It doesn't make sense to continue to log and thin the forest given climate change forecasts. Instead, we should be engaged in reforestation and afforestation.
Further, the stated mission of the Shawnee National Forest is to cultivate and maintain oak/hickory dominance. The plan involves logging many of the older oaks to "let the light in" for oak seedlings. This course of action is in addition to the cutting of maples and beech followed by spraying herbicides to ensure the trees don't re-sprout. Recent forecasts for climate change impacts on Southern Illinois forests suggest that maples will struggle and oaks will do well given the warming of the environment, so why not let the forest take its course and leave the carbon sequestered? Every time the forest is opened up or disturbed, more room is made for invasive species to take root, requiring (you guessed it) use of more herbicides in the forest interior.
When asked about how the forest service will respond to the impact of climate change in our forests, one employee said that because there was no quantifiable evidence of how climate change might impact the future forests here, there was little to be done, because little is known for sure. This flies in the face of the Forest Service’s own stated commitment to research and action related to climate change. Where is the research related to carbon sequestration and mitigation on the Shawnee National Forest? Where is the climate change management plan for the Shawnee such as the one published by Wisconsin researchers for their national forest?
What do current plans include? Management strategies include plans to harvest old oaks to thin overstocked areas and allow more openings for light to reach oak seedlings in the pursuit of sustaining oak growth. This strategy discounts the ecological complexity of forests systems. The implications for removing older trees from a mycorrhizal networked forest has been proven to negatively impact the growth of oak seedlings that the proposal seeks to promote. White oaks can live hundreds of years. Studies on mycorrhizal networks impact on seedling growth suggest the older oaks transmit nutrients to kin — younger oak seedlings. These older oaks are referenced in recent literature as node trees and have been demonstrated to play a critical role in the health of forest ecosystems. Since much of Shawnee National Forest lands have been logged many times, why not preserve large portions of the forest so future generations might enjoy what old growth forests have to offer.
The Shawnee National Forest Service does not adequately address climate change in the slew of proposals that have been put forward for public comment and this is a serious flaw. Please get involved and require the Forest Service to plan and cultivate our forests with future generations in mind.
To comment, visit the Shawnee National Forest web page, then to land and resources management, and under quick links on the right, select “Scheduled of Proposed Actions (SOPA)." For more information contact protectSNF@gmail.com.