Category Archives: Shawnee National Forest

Posts related to the Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee Parkway — New Name for a Decades-old Proposal in far Southern Illinois

Sierra Club is opposed to the Shawnee Parkway, a proposed multi-lane, high-speed highway to facilitate the trucking industry through a portion of southernmost Illinois. The negative impacts to the environment far outweigh any perceived advantages.

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Shawnee Parkway Study Area MapThe Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has invited the public to review and comment on the draft Purpose and Need Statement for the Shawnee Parkway Study. The study is being conducted to evaluate the need for a new east/west transportation “improvement” from the intersection of Illinois Route 3/146 and Interstate 57 in Alexander, Pulaski and Union Counties. The 350-square-mile study area includes several important natural resource areas that provide important habitat for federally listed species and migratory birds including migratory waterbirds, neotropical migrants and various raptors.

indiana bat

Indiana bat. USFWS photo.

Nationally recognized Important Bird Areas include Horseshoe Lake State and Fish Wildlife Area, the Thebes-area Mississippi Kite Complex, and Union County State Fish and Wildlife Area. Cypress Creek NWR is globally recognized as an Important Bird area and the Cache River and Cypress Creek Wetlands Area RAMSAR site is located within the study area.

Illinois Natural Inventory sites within the study area include Brown Barrens’ Nature Preserve, Berryville Shale Glade Nature Preserve, and McClure Shale Nature Preserve. Additionally, the federally endangered Indiana bat has been documented throughout southernmost Illinois, with known hibernacula within the study area.

800px-Mississippi_KiteThe biologically rich and diverse environment and natural beauty of the entire study area makes it an important place for high-quality outdoor recreation experiences such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, canoeing, hiking, camping, nature photography and much more. Impacts from a multi-lane, high-speed, heavy trafficked highway on outdoor recreation enjoyment include noise and air pollution, intrusions on rural viewsheds, and damage to the ecosystem recreationists have come to visit.

h_truckMajor highways cause damaging environmental fragmentation to the landscape. Studies have shown that reduced landscape connectivity and limited movements due to highways, particularly those with high speed and high traffic volumes, result in higher wildlife mortality, lower reproduction rates, ultimately smaller populations and overall lower population viability. The fragmentation effect of roads forms a barrier to movement where animals become reluctant to move across roads to access mates or preferred habitats for food and cover. The degree of aversion to roads can generally be attributed to features associated with the road, e.g., traffic volume, road width or major habitat alterations caused by the road.  High-volume and high-speed roads tend to be the greatest barriers and most effective in disrupting animal movements and population interchange.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri and the trucking industry would be the primary benefactors of a high-speed truck transit route through Illinois, while southern Illinois has nothing to gain and everything to lose. The region would not only suffer from the negative environmental impacts brought by a multi-lane highway, Illinois would forever be responsible for the cost of its maintenance. We have difficulty keeping the two interstate highways already running through the study area in good repair—it would be fiscally irresponsible to add a third such highway.

Southern Illinois would be better served by IDOT if existing roads and bridges in the study area were adequately maintained. Additionally, enhancing existing recreation and tourism opportunities would create construction jobs while maintaining the integrity of the fragile environment. We would like to see projects such as expanding the Tunnel Hill Trail into a web of interconnected bicycle trails and lanes, and hiking trails throughout the region; additional campgrounds and compatible lodging; and full staffing and educational programming at the Cache Wetlands Center.

Comments can be sent before March 15, 2016 to:

Jeffrey Keirn
Illinois Department of Transportation
Division of Highways
Region 5, District 9
PO Box 100
Carbondale, Illinois 62903-0100

Background

The Shawnee Parkway proposal is the latest in a long line of proposals going back decades for running a major highway through the heart of southernmost Illinois. The three most recent proposals began in the early 2000s with a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet proposal to continue Interstate 66 from Paducah, Kentucky through Illinois to connect to Interstate 55 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. That proposal died when Kentucky’s Purpose and Need Study showed no economic feasibility to build the highway.

In 2012 Cape Girardeau initiated a $3.6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation with a 20 percent match from IDOT (thanks, Cape Girardeau!) generating a total of $4.5 million to conduct a new feasibility study. This proposal was given a new name, 66 Corridor, but was otherwise basically identical. A Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed and a Purpose and Need Study was developed. In early 2015 payments to the outside firm conducting the “study” were halted and by July the project was cancelled.

In November 2016 IDOT announced the current, Shawnee Parkway, project. The main difference this time is the endpoints for the highway. Whereas the previous proposals called for the highway to go all the way to Kentucky, this particular proposal ends at Interstate 57 between Anna and Cairo. Since the current study area was derived from the 66 Corridor Project we are concerned about potential future impacts including the development of 66 Corridor. Therefore, it’s imperative that the cumulative effects of potential future development be included in the Environmental Impact Statement.

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21 Sierrans Float the Saline River

Saline River Watershed. Red arrows indicate approximate locations of canoe launch and take out spots. The "X" marks the approximate location of the tract of land the FS proposes to trade to Peabody Coal for a strip mine.

Saline River Watershed. Red arrows indicate approximate locations of canoe launch and take out spots. The “X” marks the approximate location of the tract of land the FS proposes to trade to Peabody Coal for a strip mine.

The 754,942-acre Saline River watershed in far southeastern Illinois has gone from one of the most important historical and geographical features in the region to one of the most abused and under-appreciated watersheds in the entire state. Once a pristine river running through vast forested wetlands the Saline has been turned into an extensively channelized river system that carries pollutants from coal mines, agricultural fields, and even oil extraction.

So why, you might be asking yourself, would 21 people choose to float this seemingly undesirable river on an Illinois Chapter conservation outing? It all started in 2011 when we first heard about a proposed land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service (FS) and Peabody Coal Company. In the proposed exchange the Forest Service would trade a parcel of approximately 384 acres in size on the Saline River in Gallatin County for three tracts of Peabody land, which adjoin FS land in Pope and Jackson Counties. (See Stop the Swap–Go to Bat for the Bats for details.)

Bottomland forested wetlands provide unique habitat and help with flood control.

Bottomland forested wetlands provide unique habitat and help with flood control.

The reason Peabody wants the Gallatin County parcel is for the coal that lay underneath it. The reason we want to stop the swap is to preserve this beautiful site with its forested wetlands, huge cherrybark oak trees, and habitat for endangered Indiana and gray bats from being strip mined for coal.

After two visits last year we realized a unique and fun way to raise awareness of the situation was to take people to the site. And, since the site straddles both sides of the Saline River, what better way to see it than by canoe?

Paddle 2VSo, last Saturday, April 13th, twenty-one paddlers embarked on a canoe float down the final 10 miles of the Saline River. We put in not far from the salt springs that were an important source of salt for Native Americans and early settlers, and took out at the mouth of the Saline at the Ohio River.

cherrybark-oak-2A couple miles into the trip we pulled out at the Forest Service parcel to explore on foot. It took a little finessing the muddy, slippery bank but everyone managed to reach dry ground without too much trouble. We took advantage of a large downed log to sit as we ate our lunch before scattering in different directions to explore the site. Although our time on land was limited everyone got to experience a bottomland forest with its large trees and pockets of standing water. We even got to see some wood ducks in one ponded area.

Peddles-pagAs the elevation rose above the floodplain we started seeing lots of spring wildflowers: bluebell, bloodroot, spring beauty, larkspur, trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lily, Virginia waterleaf, blue phlox and wild ginger to name some, but probably not all.

Turtle-pag-1With another 8 miles to go we hurried back to the canoes and by 2 pm were floating again. Although we did see a lot of agricultural land coming right up to the river’s edge, we also saw a lot of forested land, including another FS tract. During the remainder of the leisurely paddle everyone enjoyed the warmth of the spring sun and the sights and sounds of the wildlife life both in and out of the river. A large bald eagle nest was one of the first things we spotted, but it wasn’t until we neared the Ohio when we saw two adult bald eagles flying over. Wood ducks and belted kingfishers seemed to be around every bend. A barred owl that crossed the river right in front of us and landed in a nearby tree watched intently as we floated by. Migrant songbirds heard along the way included Louisiana waterthrush, blue gray gnatcatcher, northern parula and yellow-throated warbler. And, we got good looks at red-headed, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers, great blue herons and a green heron.  In addition to a few Asian carp jumping out of the water, several people saw a gar and a paddlefish.

The take-away from the outing was not only the importance of preserving this parcel of public land for the eco-system services it provides to people and critters, but moreover what a tragedy that the Saline has been written off as nothing more than an industrial ditch.

Rather than swap this parcel, perhaps the Forest Service should be partnering with other public agencies and private land trusts to embark on an epic project to restore of one of the most unique and important watersheds in the state.

Stop the Swap–Go to Bat for the Bats

How ironic that during the Year of the Bat, the Shawnee National Forest would propose a land exchange in which the Forest Service would trade away a 384-acre tract of land with a known endangered bat species to Peabody Coal, Co. for a strip mine! An Indiana bat maternity roost was found on the parcel and the endangered gray bat was also detected there.

A diamond in the rough, the Gallatin County parcel is one of the Shawnee’s best-kept secrets. Located just a few miles south of Shawneetown on the Saline River, it takes only one visit to this beautiful piece of land to know that it is providing critical habitat in a part of the state that has seen more than its fair share of human disturbance.

“The single-most important factor that leads to endangerment and extinction of species– and the one the Forest Service has the greatest influence over—is the alteration and loss of habitats.” US Forest Service, Threatened, Endangered & Sensitive Species Program.

In the proposed exchange the Forest Service would trade a parcel of approximately 384 acres in size for three tracts of ALH land, which adjoin FS land in Pope and Jackson Counties.

The federal parcel is entirely forested with bottomland and upland hardwoods, including swamp chestnut oak, American elm, red maple, sweetgum, maple, ash, tulip tree and the Forest’s largest and highest quality cherrybark oaks. It’s rare to find such a diverse bottomland forest habitat within the Saline River watershed, which is constantly being bombarded with clearing, mining, ditching and draining. Canoeist and anglers enjoy recreating in this section of the Saline River, while hikers, bird watchers and hunters enjoy the beautiful woodland.

The natural wonders alone should be ample reason for the Forest Service to hang on to this parcel, but the discovery of federally-endangered Indiana and gray bats should stop the swap. This past summer, gray bats were detected and one Indiana bat maternity roost was found on the site and 2 more maternity sites were found on FS land very near by. These are the only known Indiana bat maternity roosts known on the eastern half of the Forest.

The proposed land swap is in complete violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act requires the Forest Service to “use all methods and procedures which are necessary” to preserve endangered species. The Forest Service is required by law to give the highest priority to the protection and recovery of endangered species.

The Shawnee National Forest is seeking scoping comments on this proposal to swap land-for-land with American Land Holdings (ALH), a subsidiary of Peabody Coal, Co. Let your voice  be heard–take action here!