As CO2 levels climb daily to new record levels, the last thing we need to do is to clear cut our forests. The Northern Long Eared Bat, which will likely soon be moved from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’ status, would face additional risks from the proposal.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has filed objections to a plan by the United States Forest Service to conduct the mechanized, commercial harvesting of close to 500 acres of the Shawnee National Forest, as well as controlled burning and the application of herbicides to another 2,400 acres. Great Rivers contends that the Project proposed by the United States Forest Service will have significant negative impacts on the Northern Long-Eared Bat and other at-risk species, will contribute to global climate change, will lead to erosion, runoff and pollution of the nearby Little Cache River, and will introduce toxic chemicals into the Forest.
Great Rivers and the citizen group they represent — the Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment, or “SAFE”– assert that the Forest Service failed to take into account a recent court decision determining that the Northern Long-Eared Bat – a species the Service acknowledges to be present in the Shawnee – should be listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, rather than as a threatened species, as it had been previously listed. Once the bat is listed as endangered rather than threatened, a broader scope of protections will be triggered, including a requirement to preserve habitat used by the bat. The Forest Service improperly failed to consider the impact of the Project on the bat’s habitat in light of this change in its federal status.
Great Rivers and SAFE also raise urgent concerns that the Project will destroy a valuable carbon sink useful in the fight against climate change. Forests remove carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas pollutant – from the atmosphere.
Removal of close to 500 acres of trees from the forest will contribute to increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This effect on our climate must be given its proper weight in the assessment of the Project’s environmental impact.
The groups further object to the Project because of its proposal to introduce herbicides into the protected forest. The Forest Service plans to utilize various chemicals on the forest, some of which persist in the environment, others which have been linked to cancer, groundwater and surface water contamination, others which are toxic to pollinators, and still others that are prone to runoff and are toxic to freshwater fish. Fishing is popular in the Shawnee National Forest.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center and SAFE argue that the Forest Service failed to consider or appropriately weigh the value of other potential alternatives to the Project, such as no intervention, or the hand-selection and harvesting of trees. Either of these alternatives would result in significantly lower environmental impacts than opening up wide swaths of the forest as the Forest Service proposes to do.