Climate Preserves: A New Tool to Fight the Climate Crisis
photo: View from High Knob, Shawnee National Forest
For a greener planet,
Debra Schrishuhn for the PDA National Team
In 1949, forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote A Sand County Almanac, a seminal argument for coexistence between humans and the land we inhabit. His concept of a land ethic is straightforward: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Reflecting on Illinois and Iowa, Leopold observes that Illinois’ loss of native habitat is intended to “make Illinois safe for soybeans.”
Created as the Shawnee National Forest in 1939, a good deal of this Southern Illinois land was exhausted farmland on which FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps planted trees to restore the soil and prevent erosion. Now those lands and adjacent areas are mature forests. Logging was suspended in the 1990s, but reinstated after a 17-year hiatus. Activists are seeking a redesignation of the 289,000-acre Shawnee National Forest, administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), to Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve, under the auspices of the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS).
Here’s the deal:
- Mature deciduous forests store massive amounts of carbon, mitigating climate change. The Shawnee’s biological diversity, recreation areas, 80+ Illinois Natural Areas Inventory sites, seven Wilderness areas, and scenic landscapes are unmatched across Illinois.
- The Midwest has few national parks. Tourism-based businesses have grown across Southern Illinois since logging was suspended in the Shawnee, providing positive, long-term economic impacts on the region.
- National Preserves are areas often associated with national parks. Public hunting, trapping, fishing, backcountry camping, and other traditional uses are permitted. A National Climate Preserve is a new concept, preserving areas where forests grow as intact ecosystems, free from CO2-releasing resource extraction. This “proforestation” approach encourages carbon sequestration, thereby reducing climate change while providing recreational opportunities.
PDA is working with allies to change the designation of Shawnee National Forest to Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve. We can protect the Shawnee forests and at the same time create Illinois’ first National Park and the nation’s first Climate Preserve. A series of climate preserves can sequester and store greenhouse gases, helping to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.