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Faustian Bargain: Proposal Seeks to Swap National Forest Land for Strip Mining

Shawnee National Forest would swap lands with Peabody Energy

Common Dreams staff

A proposal to swap land from the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois to Peabody Energy has conservationists up in arms.

The Harrisburg, IL  Daily Register describes the deal this way:

Ron Scott of the U.S. Forest Service said one parcel of land owned by the federal government has minerals that Peabody desires. Peabody's subsidiary, American Land Holdings of Illinois, spoke with the Forest Service regarding available lands the agency desired that adjoined other Forest Service properties and purchased those with the intent of trading for the piece of federal property. That federal property is 384 acres on both sides of the Saline River in Gallatin County 2 miles west of the Ohio River.

The Forest Service would receive a 481-acre parcel in Pope County north of Lusk Creek, 80 acres in Pope County within the Lusk Creek Wilderness Area surrounding Little Lusk Creek and 270 acres in Jackson County between Fountain Bluff and the Mississippi River. The Forest Service would receive half the mineral rights of the 481-acre parcel where there are no desirable minerals, but no mineral rights on the other two parcels where there are also no desirable minerals, Scott said.

Peabody's goal? Strip-mining for coal.

Conservationists are not happy about the proposal. The Daily Register reports:

Barney Bush of the Vinyard Indian Settlement in Herod said he is in opposition to the plan because he does not want further strip mining in the region. [...]

"Nothing good comes out of a strip mine." [...]

Brian Perbix of the Prairie Rivers Network said his river conservation organization is concerned about a future strip mine's effect on the purity of the river ecosystem.


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Perbix said he toured the federal property earlier in the day and is concerned about 50 to 70 acres of forest wetland there.

"It was recognized in the 2006 Forest Plan there was a focus on preserving clean water as well as habitat," Perbix said.

And The Southern Illinoisan offers this succinct take:

"This is by and far the dumbest and worst thing they've ever proposed," said Chairman Jim Bensman of the Sierra Club's Shawnee National Forest Committee. "This exchange is clearly a violation of the Endangered Species Act."

The endangered species in question is the Indiana bat.

Two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, oppose the deal and have filed a notice of intent to sue the Forest Service today for failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Swapping away the homes of endangered bats so that a coal company can strip mine them is unconscionable,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Just two weeks ago, the federal government issued the staggering news that nearly 7 million bats have died over just the past few years from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has been spreading across the country like wildfire, wiping out bats from Nova Scotia to Tennessee. Now the Forest Service proposes to intentionally put bats in harm’s way?”

Said Jim Bensman, chair of the Sierra Club's Shawnee National Forest Committee: “The Forest Service has a legal obligation to make protection of endangered species a top priority. When the agency found out last summer there were Indiana bats and gray bats on the land, its first move should have been to safeguard that habitat, not move forward with a plan with Peabody to have it strip-mined.”

The Shawnee National Forest is still taking comments on the proposal until tomorrow.

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