Using the power of photojournalism to expose social, economic and ecological injustice

One month and thirty years ago, activist John Wallace and I walked together through a clearcut in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest. I suppose it was destined to happen a few more times and the last time just happened on May 2, 2019. It was not a pretty sight. – Orin Langelle

Mud caked tires and the tracks that covered them on a forwarder used to haul out lumber at the industrial Lee Mine logging project in the Shawnee National Forest (SNF). (2019)

Shawnee Mud and Ruts

by Shawnee Forest Defense!

Hardin County, Illinois – On an incredibly rainy May 2, heavily loaded log trucks passing by alerted activist John Wallace and photojournalist, Orin Langelle, to investigate a nearby Shawnee National Forest logging site, known as the Lee Mine Project in Hardin County. The clearcut logging site included a recently pushed-in road, a log landing, and punched-in roads or trails sprawling in different directions. A bulldozer, a feller-buncher and a mud-caked forwarder (for hauling out logs) were setting idle on site, after the end of the work day. Muddy ruts and stumps dominated the scarred landscape.

Shawnee Forest Defense! activist John Wallace (center) barely visible in the mud and ruts. (2019)             

Tree cutting, bulldozing and road building were well underway on April 20, when a resident neighbor, Patti Walker first noticed the atrocity, in direct contradiction of the agency’s own standards detailed in a 2007 Environmental Assessment. As if the simple disregard for forest inhabitants weren’t enough, the project was in full swing on May 2, a day that locally received more than 2″ of rainfall.  Logging in mud destroys forest soils.

The clearcut logging site included a recently pushed-in road, a log landing (above), and recent new roads or trails sprawling in different directions. (2019)                                             

The Lee Mine Project is an industrial logging scheme that USDA Forest Service (FS) staff has dishonestly characterized as “Hardwood Restoration.” The smaller, hardwood trees of the forest understory are being destroyed along with the larger, harvested pine trees. In the midst of the forest songbird nesting season, agency officials have turned a blind eye to their own previously stated mitigating measures of protecting nesting birds from damaging project activities in the locale.

Mud, ruts dominate the scarred landscape in the SNF. (2019)

On a site located just across the road from the current Lee Mine Project area the FS took the following stated measures to protect nesting birds. “[T]o minimize effects on migratory birds and other reproducing animals, no prescribed fire, site-preparation or tree-cutting would be conducted during the most active part of the nesting season (April 15-July 15).” (Responses to Comments, Revised EA, Harris Branch Restoration of Hardwoods in a Pine Stand, #8, pg. 6)

Trees and earth pushed to the side for the logging road. (2019)             

Big Creek, a candidate stream for wild and scenic riverway designation, brown from rain runoff and erosion from the Lee Mine Project is also designated as a Zoological Area in the SNF. (2019)

Adding insult to injury, the hilly and recently muddied landscape drains directly into Big Creek, a candidate stream for Wild and Scenic Riverway designation. Because of its biological diversity, the stream is also designated as a Zoological Area on the Shawnee National Forest.

“Big Creek is a beautiful, clear, rocky, spring-fed stream that flows through limestone formations of Shawnee Hills…”, “the clear cool water provides a stream environment suitable for fauna that is intolerant of sluggish, silty, warm waters,” are typical descriptors of the stream as detailed in Biologically Significant Illinois Streams, An Evaluation of the Streams of Illinois, (INHS, L.Page, K.Cummings, C.Mayer, S.Post, 1991). It is known to contain two state endangered crayfish, Ordonectes kentuckiensis and Orconectes placidus. Big Creek is also believed to contain a state threatened fish, least brook lamprey, Lampetra aepyptera. (citation above). The Illinois Water Quality Report (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 1990) rated the stream as “Full Support,” and the Biological Stream Characterization (Hite and Bertrand, 1989), rated this stretch of Big Creek as an “A” Stream, a Unique Aquatic Resource. It was also rated as one of the “Outstanding” streams in the system (INHS, L.Page, K.Cummings, C.Mayer, S.Post, 1991).

Above the mud and ruts is an idle feller buncher, a type of harvester used in logging. It is a motorized vehicle run by a single person with an attachment that can cut and gather several trees before stacking them on the ground. A feller buncher can cut 200 trees per hour, eliminating logging jobs. (2019) 

Following a day of industrial logging operations near its banks, and in the midst of heavy and consistent rains, the typically clear flowing stream was compromised by turbid water, clouded with sediment from the nearby denuded hillsides, trails and bulldozed roadways of the logging site. Other nearby streams that had no drainage from the logging operations were flowing with amazing clarity.

The FS has once again allowed the timber industry to run roughshod over one of its project sites to the detriment of the Shawnee National Forest, the land, the water, the forest inhabitants and the citizens of this country, at the Lee Mine Project logging site. There is frankly nothing about this project that can be considered consistent with the Forest Service stated motto which is, “Caring for the land and serving the people.”


Please join Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Justice Ecology Project and Shawnee Forest Defense! in October for The Resurgence: 2019 Forest & Climate Movement Convergence where we will join together diverse movements to build strategies with action to fundamentally transform the system that is destroying life on Earth.  The event will take place in the Shawnee National Forest.

12 Responses to “Shawnee National Forest Allowed to be Desecrated by U.S. Forest Service”

  1. Shelley Deal

    Are you sure this is part of the Shawnee National Forest and not private property? Looking at my mapping program, I think it’s private property.

    • photolangelle

      Yes, the site definitely was in Shawnee National Forest. I’m not sure if the shot of Big Creek was or not – but it definitely was that brown and silty due to the logging site.

  2. Ed Williams

    I keep wondering just how foolish people can get? Some people seem to take it as a challenge. This article is blindly absurd. Southern Illinois should be utilizing these forests with ATV trails, horse trails and select cut logging. Instead we see poverty for most, and wealth for the politically connected. There is no common sense or shame….

    • Jesse Sell

      If you read a bit more carefully, I don’t think you’ll find any anti-logging rhetoric in the article. The author is lamenting that standard practices to protect the environment during these projects we’re not observed, and that notable harm is going to be the result. They note as well that the hardwood restoration that is supposed to be concurrently happening is not only being back-burnered, but inhibited by this company’s carelessness.

  3. Billy

    Oh let me see if I understand you? It’s better to let timber rot and fall over? Btw how did u get to the site the new road?
    Shawnee should be developed with lakes more camp sites.
    Trails in the forest were started by men and horses years ago.
    Most people never get to see the forest for the trees.

    • Louise Cook

      I don’t see anybody saying it’s better to let the trees rot and fall over. I only see somebody saying it’s better to use good forestry practices … which, by the way, my daughter, a forester, would, and does, agree with.

  4. Uo to my neck in the shallow end

    The Shawnee Forest is “owned” by all citizens of this country which makes them stakeholders in activities that impact the forest. As such many of whom would disagree with the apparent disregard shown above. Any support for the idea that “job creation” or “utilizing the forest” justifies such practices over the will of potentially the majority of stakeholders shows in itself ignorance and possible criminal intent. Question: What price is being paid for this public timber directly to the USFS and indirectly to the people of this country in comparison to prices paid for timber on private land? The answer to that question should identify the potential criminality mentioned earlier. Question: How does tree removal or high impact trails which has and will result in considerable erosion improve the Shawnee forest? The answer to this question exposes the ignorance.

  5. John Wallace

    The Shawnee National Forest has never profited from nor broke-even on a timber sale. This timber is being trucked to Kentucky to be processed. The logging company gains, the taxpayer and private timber owner (by way of reduced timber value) loses. Rather than change the practice, the Forest Service now merely hides the below cost sale expense in a much larger & more complicated project. Another important aspect is the Forest Service has not and does not employ the practice of individual tree selection logging practices as used by most responsible timber operators on private lands in the area. On the contrary the Forest Service employs, 2 stage clearcut logging, known as shelterwood. Cut 1: 60 – 80% of “harvestable” trees are mechanically removed (destroying understory trees); Cut 2: remaining harvestable trees taken out mechanically (destroying more & new understory trees).

  6. John Wallace

    Equestrian and ATV trails can be found all over the Shawnee. The US Forest Service has neglected trail maintenance and shuttered numerous recreation sites in the recent past. The reason for a lack of proper maintenance & closures are assigned to budgetary constraints. Why then should taxpayers tolerate below cost timber sales? Comparatively, many more people benefit from spending tax dollars on recreation, than on timber industry subsidies.

  7. Mike McGear

    I live in the Shawnee. I can see reasonable points in nearly every post on this thread. Having lived here for a while now, I am going to support those folks saying that certain forestry practices should be followed. That way, there can be plenty of beautiful surroundings for campers/hikers/day-trippers to enjoy. Yes, use the land. Even exploit it. But take enough care of it, that it survives. The forest is extremely resilient. But even it has limitations.


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