For the first time in nearly three decades, the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois has proposed a commercial timber harvest of mostly native oaks and hickories. And environmental activists whose high-profile fight against logging in the 1990s led to a 17-year moratorium are once again raising alarms.
Lisa Helmig, acting forest supervisor with the Shawnee National Forest, said the plan is rooted in the best available science about how to maintain the keystone oak ecosystem that is native to the Shawnee foothills. “The oak ecosystem has been in place here in the central hardwood region for 5,000 years,” she said. But Helmig said the ecosystem is at risk due to a lack of natural or man-made disturbances, such as fire, storms and, yes, even logging. Without these disturbances, non-native, shade-tolerant sugar maple and beech trees sprout up and fill in the forest’s midstory, she said.
The activists have filed an objection, based largely on their past experience with timber harvest on the Forest.
The trees that have grown up to replace the harvested oaks and hickories are mostly 28-year-old stands of “undesirable” beeches and maples. “When you think about how many oaks were here, it’s heart-wrenching,” Wallace said “Had they not cut the oaks, we’d have oaks here,” Stearns added. In addition to the Farview site, in their letter they write that we also returned to the North End Ecological Restoration project logged in Pope County in the late 1990s. “Little to no oak and hickory have been visibly restored.” They cited other examples, as well.
This is the root of their concern: What the Shawnee National Forest’s leadership claims is happening isn’t.
Asked about their concerns, Helmig said that her “gut reaction” is that the Forest Service likely didn’t follow through with what should be a multiphase treatment. Helmig said she’s confident that the Forest Service is committed to seeing (this) project through… “We have a wonderful silviculturist on staff now,” Helmig said. “He’s been here five years and is absolutely fantastic.”
Hopefully we can assume that there has been a science-based determination that ecological integrity requires regenerating some young oaks and hickories. But implementation unfortunately still boils down to “trust us,” and “we’re different now.” (But then the Forest evicted the media from the objection meeting, wrongly according to the Washington Office.)