Breaking Green

Shawnee Forest Climate Preserve with John Wallace

June 16, 2022 Global Justice Ecology Project / Host Steve Taylor Season 2 Episode 5
Breaking Green
Shawnee Forest Climate Preserve with John Wallace
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Shawnee Showdown, a film by Cade Bursell, was screened at the Yale Environmental film festival earlier this year. It documents the colorful and successful protests to prevent logging in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois during the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

The protests along with legal efforts were successful in winning a 17 year moratorium on logging. Now, activists are working to make the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, the first climate preserve in the United States. The designation would prevent logging and other resource extraction from disturbing the forest in order to allow it to continue to act as a natural and highly effective carbon sink. Supporters argue that allowing natural forest and public lands to stand is an efficient and necessary tool in fighting climate change. 

In this episode of Breaking green, we will talk with John Wallace who is working to make the Shawnee National Forest, the nation's first climate Preserve.

Wallace is a former public land and municipal water source manager, John also worked as an environmental educator from Southern Illinois University's Touch of Nature Environmental Center. 

 As a forest activist on the Shawnee National Forest and public land in and around the southern Illinois region for 33 years, he has taken on public awareness campaigns, tackled pro se litigation and participated in non-violent direct action in defense of the natural world. 

 John is a founding member of the Shawnee Forest Defense! and the 28 -year-old Shawnee Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society (IAS).  

 He is currently the Shawnee Audubon Chapter president and serves on the Land Acquisition and Sanctuary Committee of IAS, the oldest, non-governmental conservation organization in Illinois.  

 John has served as a volunteer land steward for IAS, has a BS in Plant and Soil Science from SIU and has been known to portray the writer, mountaineer and conservationist, John Muir, in living history performances.

You can learn more about saving the Shawnee National Forest at

See the trailer for Shawnee Showdown at trailer.

See photos from the 1990s blockade in the Shawnee at Langelle Photography.

This podcast is produced by Global Justice Ecology Project.

Breaking Green is made possible by donations from people like you. 

Please help us lift up the voices of those working to protect forests, defend human rights and expose false solutions.  Simply click here to send a donation or text GIVE to 1 716 257 4187.

Steve Taylor  0:00  
Welcome to breaking green, a podcast by global justice ecology project. On breaking green, we will talk with activists and experts to examine the intertwined issues of social, ecological and economic injustice. We will also explore some of the more outrageous proposals to address climate and environmental crises that are falsely being sold as green. I am your host, Steve Taylor. Natural forests are important in fighting climate change. But what are we doing to protect them? The film shiny showdown was screened at the Yale Environmental film festival earlier this year. It documents the colorful and successful protests to prevent logging in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. The protests along with legal efforts were successful in winning a 17 year moratorium on logging. Now, activists are working to make the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, the first climate preserve in the United States. The designation would prevent logging and other resource extraction from disturbing the forest in order to allow it to continue to act as a natural and highly effective carbon sink. Supporters argue that allowing natural forest and public lands to stand is an efficient and necessary tool in fighting climate change. In this episode of Breaking green, we will talk with John Wallace who is working to make the Shawnee National Forest, the nation's first climate Preserve. Wallace is a former public land and municipal water manager. He also worked as an environmental educator  Southern Illinois University's touch with nature and Environmental Center. As a forest activist in the Shawnee National Forest and public land in and around the southern Illinois region for 33 years. Wallace has taken on public awareness campaigns, tackled pro se litigation, and participated in non violent direct action in defense of the natural world. He is a founding member of the Shawnee forest defense in the 28 year old Shawnee chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society IAS. He is currently the Shawnee Audubon chapter president and serves on the land acquisition and Sanctuary committee of the IAS, the oldest non governmental conservation organization in Illinois. John has served as a volunteer Land Steward for IHS has a Bachelors of Science in Plant and Soil Science from Southern Illinois University, and has been known to portray the writer mountaineer and conservationist John Muir in living history performances. John Wallace, welcome to breaking green. 

John Wallace  2:34  
Thanks for having me, Steve. It's great to be here.

Steve Taylor  2:35  
So John, you're in a movie about a month long logging road blockade in the 1990s and legal efforts to preserve the Shawnee national forest from commercial logging. That movie Shawnee Showdown made by filmmaker and cinema professor Cade Purcell has been screening at various venues, including Yale's Environmental film festival earlier this year. You are a central figure in the film. Let's listen to the trailer of that movie. Now, and then we can come back and discuss it.

Trailer  3:07  
The Shawnee has much better uses than to go in and completely destroy the forest. A company trucked tons of hardwood out of the Shawnee National Forest. The Wilderness Society, which has done its own version of cheeseburgers says the Shawnee lost nearly $1.3 million in a comparable year. With clear cutting they cut everything down. So we just thought, well, we'll just sit down in the middle of the logging road and if they want to come through, they're gonna have to go through us. And at some point, you just have to as Edward Abbey had said, draw a line in the sand and say thus far and no farther. We're here to be non violent, with the Speak out as citizens of Jackson County in the United States. Those of you who have the commitment, you must be ready to go to jail. Thank you all for coming. Please stay i fight.

Steve Taylor  4:20  
In the film, there are very dramatic shots of you being removed from a logging skitter with an acetylene torch by authorities after you had locked your head to it with a Kryptonite bicycle lock. This happened after a month long blockade on a logging road for those who have not seen the film. Could you tell us more about those protests?Sure. Local people took up trying to protect the public land on the Shawnee back in the summer of 1990 and eventually filed suit and resulting from that this protest began and lasted in the middle of a logging road. We set up a vigil and and a protest site for 79 days before it ended. On day 77, the US Forest Service and logging companies came in to log the sitend and that's when I attached myself with a bicycle lock and, and was removed by an acetylene torch. It was an interesting experience. Just a in an inspirational way for me to exercise my constitutional rights. And it actually had a profound impact, I believe on forest management overall.

Well, this was not typical in the Midwest. And I believe this logging road vigil and blockade was the first of its type in North America. But there were also legal efforts that went alongside with the protests. And that led to a moratorium. Could you explain that?

John Wallace  6:18  
Absolutely. And the legal aspects are really what the motivation was behind the the encampment and and that 79 Day protest it. We actually in day 77, the Forest Service came in with a logging company, they began logging in by day 79, they had quit because we did win a court injunction. So the, the protest was actually quite successful. Eventually, the Fairview timber sale did get logged, but that started a snowball effect. The congressional delegation of the state of Illinois actually sent the Forest Service a letter in the early part of 1991, asking the agency to not log Fairview. But the agencies snubed their nose at the lawmakers and went ahead and and and logged it. More litigation followed, eventually a lawsuit over the entire national forest management plan that was successful. And that resulted in a 17 year injunction against logging, ATV use oil and gas drilling and one or two other abusive uses of our public land. And so we did have a great deal of success overall. But it required many different assets, from civil disobedience to litigation to public education, to a lobby, our elected officials. But it was an overall incredibly successful event,

Steve Taylor  8:07  
the film interviews, attorneys, you, other residents and activists in the region. And I think it's made clear that it is believed that that 17 year moratorium would not have happened with just one element, the civil disobedience by itself or even the litigation by itself. Am I reading that? Right? 

John Wallace  8:30  
Oh, absolutely. You know, that if, if someone is is passionate about trying to protect a place a location, you know, really trying to make environment serious environmental change, you have to incorporate many different approaches. You have to be very diverse and how you how you approach it are the chances of a failure are quite, quite large. I hate to say.

So there was a lot of popular support that was generated through the protest. There were successful litigation. Even members of Congress came to the aid of the Shawnee national forests. What were some of the points that really resonated with the public? I remember discussions in this film of below cost timber sales. Yes. So the US Forest Service sells timber to the timber industry sells lumber, and then they come in and log it off. And the agency is known for selling it well below the cost that it takes to actually prepare it. One of the big largest expenses for instance, is road building. You know, the USDA Forest Service used to be the largest road building entity in the world. I'm not sure if that still is a case but every time they do something in, in our wild lands in this country, they have to build roads to bring in all the equipment. And usually the equipment is on large trucks. And, for instance, the Fairview timber sale, it was, I believe, it was less than $55,000 is what the timber sold for. The logging road itself just to be built, the first time costs 43,000 It actually was rebuilt twice. And then there's marking costs, there's there's monitoring costs, there's restoration costs, all those things, the taxpayers foot the bill. And, and by the time they were done with, of course, it also involved the defense, the law enforcement. I believe it was almost $600,000 was what it was how much money the agency put into the Fairview timber sale. So put that into perspective, it sold for less than 55,000. And I believe that figure was 589,000. So it's... the agency is notorious for losing tax dollars while they're selling not not just the the wood, they're selling off the integrity of our forests and the functioning of forest ecosystems.

Steve Taylor  11:30  
Right, even without the protest and the the law enforcement that that would have gone along with that. timber sales tend to be below cost. And the Shawnee had lost over a million dollars and well, I guess a million dollars per year. I mean, could you give us some scale to that?

John Wallace  11:52  
Yeah, it's very the more logging that takes place, the more the more they lose. So and unfortunately, there is an archaic law in place that actually encourages the agency to sell more timber regardless of how much it costs. Because if, if the agency can show that they're, that they're providing more more timber, regardless of how much it costs or how much revenue they bring in, their budgets are automatically increased. It's it's a corrupt system, unfortunately. But as a rule, the the Shawnee has lost over a million dollars annually, you know, sometimes several million sometimes, you know, just right at a million, it all depends on the volume that they log.

Steve Taylor  12:46  
So in the 1990s, when the Forest Service was cutting the Shawnee, they were saying that it was to regenerate the forest the forest was becoming degenerate, and that it would promote oak hickory, or oak growth. In the movie that's addressed. It shows you going back and revisiting the cut sites. What did you guys find decades later,

John Wallace  13:12  
we went back and found that it's not true. The oaks are not coming back. All of this logging is was just a was just bureaucratic doublespeak.

Steve Taylor  13:27  
And and what was really stunning in in the film, was that these trees which were over 100 years old, were were being used for pallets by Anheuser Busch.

John Wallace  13:37  
Yeah, you know, it's, it's one thing if truly we need the resources, then then proper logging is something that that I wouldn't oppose, you know, selective logging if it truly is a needed resource, but yeah, these 120 year old, majestic oak trees are being cut down. We're being skidded out of the forest, loaded on the log trucks and hauled to Missouri to be turned into pallets which most of them or at the time were used only once and then found their way to the landfill. Again, more carbon escapes right now what's happening is our trees are being cut down and shipped over to Missouri again. And they're being ground up into livestock bedding. And you can you know, any you can go to what is a tractor supply company or corporation TSE and they have they sell these these bales of pine shavings. I believe they're four foot four cubic foot bales and and that comes out of the out of the Shawnee. Again, when you think about the whole process with, with a carbon cycle, you've taken these trees with all of this stored carbon in the trunks and in the branches. And in the ground, you take the trunks away, and you grind them all up. And as soon as they're exposed to the air, they start decomposing and giving off carbon accent, you know, and, and ground up. Anyone that knows anything about wood ground up wood decomposes a lot faster than, than, than a log decomposes. So it really releases a lot more carbon and is really short sighted. But again, it's not. And then if it were accomplishing what the agency said was, if the Oaks were coming back, it would be different, but the Oaks aren't coming back.

Steve Taylor  15:51  
So, um, why does the Forest Service really want to manage the forest? I've heard it argued that it's because of budget, they have a budget to manage, and they need to manage the forests to bring in money. Is that an accurate assessment?

John Wallace  16:14  
It is, um, I mean, foresters are people that manipulate forests. That's what they do. They don't they they don't just most, it's really rare to find a forester that is quite satisfied with leaving the natural processes to manage the forest. They want to manipulate it. It provides jobs for other foresters. So there's this, this a system in place that rewards them for doing that. And so that's why we keep doing making the same mistakes over and over again.

Steve Taylor  16:50  
So there was a 17 year logging moratorium for the Shawnee national forest because of the protests because of the litigation. Because of all that there's there's been historically a lot of local support for the forest as a natural habitat as a forest. Leave it alone. What's happening now?

John Wallace  17:12  
Well, right now the agency is back to logging levels that I think exceed logging levels of the 1980s. There are a number of projects on the books. Right now the agency has issued decision notices on on what it about 10,000 acres of clear cut style logging, shelterwood logging. And, and now local people, myself included, are are trying to fight this and we have a number of different approaches. This film has helped helped us communicate our message. But right now we have a proposal in place to transfer the Shawnee out of the US Department of Agriculture and into the US Department of Interior Park Service to create the new Shawnee National Park and the nation's first climate preserve. And it is gaining moment.

Steve Taylor  18:18  
This is your host, Steve Taylor, and we will be back right after this.

Theresa Church  18:25  
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Steve Taylor  19:24  
Welcome back to breaking green. So John told me about the Shawnee and plans to make it into a climate preserve and how that fits into the idea of pro forestation.

John Wallace  19:36  
Well, let me let me step back just a little bit and just just really impressed the fact that that our life support systems on this planet are are crashing right now. You know, the web of life is coming unraveled. We're seeing it you know, we're seeing this. insect populations are crashing or bird populations are crashing, they all these food webs that are so interconnected. It is because primarily, it seems with all the evidence that we have. And the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and all the scientists involved with that, that it is the result of climate change that is upon us, our earth is warming unnaturally fast. And we have to do, we have to do things, we have to stop producing so much carbon dioxide, which is primarily the result of internal combustion engines, we have to we have to reduce our carbon footprint. But one of the one of the most important concepts we need to do is sequester the carbon that is already in the atmosphere. Now, it is a long, lengthy process to stabilize our the earth's temperature, the Earth's atmosphere, and we need to do whatever we can to sequester as much carbon as possible. The best method on land to actually do this is intact, mature forest ecosystems, and there's nothing like it on on land on Earth. Now, aquatic ecosystems are very important, I don't want to take anything away from from them whatsoever, but they're all these these false solutions to you know, to create these these different engineering methodologies. But the problem is every one of them takes it they produce more carbon dioxide, just to prove that, you know, as well as we can even read, you know, we can even reduce carbon or carbon footprint by by using sustainable energies, but the property of those have negative consequences too. You know, many solar photovoltaic arrays take a lot of rare minerals that have to be mined out of the ground. The wind farms, you know, are known for chopping up birds, you know, that birds fly right into it, you know, on and on, we have to, we have to decrease our consumption and our production of carbon dioxide. And we have to get this the stabilization by sequestration and storage, and forests are the best way to do that. So there's all kinds of forest management you know, there's, there's, there's deforestation, there's, there's a forestation where you plant trees, too. Where they weren't growing before, reforestation, you know, after trees, are logged, you plant new trees, you know, you get new trees to come up. But there is also a management description that is relatively new, that as you mentioned, it's called Pro forestation. And it is leaving functioning, ecosystems intact, allowing them to do their, what they do so well, and that is sequester and store carbon. And when, when you log a forest, not only do you stop that process of sequestration, the forest then starts becoming a carbon source, as opposed to a carbon sink, which is what you need to be pulling in more carbon and then giving off. And it's very complicated, but it's also pretty simple. You know, we, the more we protect, the mature forests we have, the better off we are in our public lands, is the best way to do it, or the best quality of ecosystems are found on public land. So it's, it is a way to help battle this or to mitigate climate change. And, and it's something that that can be done all across North America, it can be done all over the world. And it doesn't cost us anything, you know, it doesn't cost us money. And it doesn't cost us carbon, which is which is rare option. You know, all the other false solutions actually produce carbon as well. And that, you know, we just have to leave our forests alone.

Steve Taylor  24:25  
Wow, those are very interesting points. I mean, if we are serious about addressing climate change, I mean, we have something that's already here, you know, our forest and those in the in the public lands in the National Forest system let's let's leave them there. Let's leave them intact. That's a very powerful argument. So what does that look like agency wise, what you're proposing is going to move from the USDA to some other agency?

John Wallace  24:51  
So the US Department of Agriculture's Forest Service is has a very production oriented mindset there in the Department of Ag, you know, the, when you think about agriculture, you're producing a product. The reason we use agriculture we take from the land and we make food we make, there's all kinds of different agricultural products, well the Forest Service is the same. And so that is, I've found that that is a very difficult nut to crack with that agency. However, the US Department of Interior Park Service has just three missions, you know, just three motivations for their existence and in their mission. One is, is preservation of the of the resource. The second is education about the resource, and then the third is recreation. And that can help not only the forest ecosystems and all the different organisms that live in within the forest ecosystem, it can help the people too. And, and, you know, that's important, part of this planet. And it is really a valuable aspect in and there are currently 63 national parks, and 21 National preserves. Almost all of the preserves are associated with a park. And so national parks are highly valued by the public. You know, it's rare that people that are on vacation, don't go out of their way to if they're near a national park to visit a national park. The same can't be said for national forests, unfortunately, and the agency is not as good at it, managing recreation and, and protecting the resource, the US Forest Service, as is the National Park Service. And so that's where we're going on this on this front. And we think that that others will pick up this idea as well, you know, we, in this part of the country, so we're in the center of North America and the center of the US, there is a relatively noticeable absence of national parks, and the National Parks are considered America's best idea. And it's for good reason, you know, it's to to just protect these these natural components of this land and wilderness areas so that they can be appreciated by Gen, you know, for generations to come. And, and all of the organisms that are found in these ecosystems can thrive. So it's, it's so I think it's a win win. It also since that brings in more visitors to to a national park in say, a National Forest, it will help to establish more of a sustainable economy in the region by we have ever since this injunction went in place, a number of these cottage industries have have sprouted up all around the Shawnee National Forest, wineries, microbreweries, bed and breakfast. So we have a number of really fascinating farm to table restaurants. You know, there are rock climbing destinations. You know, horseback riding is very popular in the area. You know, it's just this, this industry is getting started. And now, all of a sudden, we we have this upswing and in resource extraction, which will have a negative impact on such industries. And so we're hoping, and we seem to have quite a bit of local support. But we're in our infancy as well. So we have more, more distance to go on that on that front.

Steve Taylor  29:01  
Well, what do your efforts look like right now? Are you approaching members of Congress, local leaders? What does that look like?

John Wallace  29:09  
Right now? We are approaching local leaders and met with several mayors and city managers in the area. We hope to reach out to local county boards. We have the support of a retired Congressman right now that is really gaining, which is helping people make that step of of actually supporting the project. We been started a letter writing campaign to members of Congress including our both our senators, as well as representatives,

Steve Taylor  29:48  
S o if listeners want to find out more they can go to Shawnee forest

John Wallace  29:54  
Absolutely, yes. And we also have they can email us at as well, if they want more information than what they get at the website,

Steve Taylor  30:07  
The original moratorium started in part because of public protests along with legal actions and political outreach. Do you see more public protests heading to the Shawnee National Forest?

John Wallace  30:21  
Unfortunately I do I hate I am. I hate to say it because I don't see the agency making any any changes toward their toward their outlook we. The USDA Forest Service just recently announced a a decision on a project around a very popular recreation Lake reservoir and and water source Lake Kincaid lake in Jackson County. And it just made the announcement on it involves 2000 acres of clear cut style shelter with logging and within this watershed in an area that because it is a water source watershed is considered inappropriate for for timber extraction. However, the Forest Service's has just very conveniently said, well, this isn't for timber, we're cutting these trees for forest health. And it is on some of the steepest slopes we have with some of the most erodible less soils that can be found in in the state. And in here, they're just setting the stage the stage for disaster. So unfortunately, I'm afraid that that we're going to see more protests and and that people are going to become alarmed because it's just, it's too important of a watershed. It's too valued of a recreation area. And again, it's you know, it's the classic approach by the agency to instead of, you know, managing for the, for the most people for the longest amount of time, the agency is managing for just a few resource extraction professionals at the expense of the majority of thepeople.

Witnessing too much distraction? You know, it's it's, you know, I like to equate. I like simple concepts. I think most people understand simple concepts. And, and most people understand a pie chart, you know, because you can actually see, okay, this is, if we imagine a pie chart of all the forests. In America, let's say, over 90, almost 95% of all timber that is cut in, in the US comes off private land. And so we have these these little bits of, you know, in our public land is I believe it's ranges somewhere between 25 and 30%. Of Of all the land and in the US. You know, can't we can't we set aside that little that little bit. The other thing is just the beauty of the natural world I need I need it for my well being you know if I'm going to stay sane, I need to get out into nature. I need to go to a quiet a quiet space and watch and listen to the birds. Smell the wildflowers watch the seasons change I have to have that and in forest are the, you know, they provide us with so much. It's even now it's even documented that forest not only do all this great carbon sequestration and storage, now they've determined that they actually physically cool the Earth noticably. and anyone that spends time in forests you know, it's it's cooler in the shade than it is out in the sun, but they actually go through a chemical process that actually cools the entire region. So if you think about the state of Illinois, the Shawnee is the state of Illinois as long and goes more from north to south. Right at the bottom of it though it kind of turns into a triangle you know, it gets narrower and that's where the Shawnee National Forest is. And and that whole region is cooled by by the forest itself. You know, they've documented that it's it's even more than a half of one degree Celsius. You know, it's I've watched weather maps on on the TV news for for years and it's always it's always warmer in say, the St. Louis metropolitan area than it is and in Southern Illinois even though we're farther south than which did never made sense to me. And I always believed it was because of the concrete and you know, all the developments and actually isn't it's a physical it a physical and chemical a process that takes place and and it cools the region. So it just makes sense to leave our forests alone and and so I become passionate about it. And and that's what pulled me

Steve Taylor  36:49  
Well, John Wallace, we wish you the best of luck and thank you for joining us on breaking green.

John Wallace  36:56  
Steve, thank you for having me. This is a great podcast I'm I feel real honored to take part in.

Steve Taylor  37:05  
You have been listening to breaking green, a global justice Ecology Project podcast. To learn more about global justice ecology project, visit global justice Breaking green is made possible by tax deductible donations by people like you. Please help us lift up the voices of those working to protect forests, defend human rights and expose false solutions. Simply text give g i v e to 1-716-257-4187 That's 1-716-257-4187

Transcribed by

Breaking Green Introduction
Episode Introduction
Introduction to John Wallace
Movie Trailer
The protests and early efforts to save the Shawnee
Protests and Litigation Lead to Logging Moratorium
Below Cost Logging on Public Land
Millions in the Red
USFS Failed to Generate Oak Growth
Century Old Oaks Made into Pallets
Forest Management is about Creating a Budget for USFS
Working Toward Climate Preserve
Break with Theresa Church
Why Climate Preserves?
Move Public Land from USDA
What Do Efforts Look Like Now?
What Brought Wallace to The Movement?