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Normal Theater film documents efforts to keep loggers out of Shawnee National Forest

Man standing in logging site
John Wallace
Environmental activist Sam Stearns stands at a logging site at Bean Ridge in Alexander County in the Shawnee National Forest.

Environmentalists are trying to spare the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois from loggers.

The Shawnee Forest Defense’s efforts are detailed in the documentary “Shawnee Showdown: Keep the Forest Standing.” The 2021 film was produced by Cade Bursell, a professor of film at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

The documentary will play during a free showing at the Normal Theater at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Activist John Wallace helped stop logging and oil and gas drilling in the forest decades ago through a court injunction. Since then, the Forest Service won a court battle to resume logging in Shawnee.

John Wallace
John Wallace

Now, Wallace and the Shawnee Forest Defense want Congress to remove forest control from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“In the Department of Agriculture, they are used to producing crops, and unfortunately the Forest Service looks at our national forest in many ways as a crop,” Wallace said. “They produce products. The most common crop they produce is timber.”

The environmental group wants to have the property transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior and ultimately turned into Illinois’ first national park and the nation’s first climate preserve to stop all resource extraction from the site.

“The forest can best continue its carbon sequestration and carbon storage as a functioning ecosystem,” Wallace said.

High Knob, Shawnee National Forest
Karen Frailey
High Knob, located in Hardin County on the Shawnee National Forest.

Wallace said the Shawnee National Forest plays a vital role in combating climate change because it's one of the rare spots of public land in Illinois.

“With how many people we have, we really don’t have that much. What we have, we really need to take care of properly,” he said.

Wallace and fellow activist Sam Stearns will lead a discussion following the documentary.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.