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Shawnee National Forest/Peabody Energy land swap received negatively

Brian DeNeal
updated: 1/26/2012 11:48 AM

Interest in a land swap proposal between the U.S. Forest Service and Peabody Energy generated a large crowd of people at an open house at Shawnee National Forest headquarters Wednesday.

Reactions from the crowd were largely negative based on a variety of factors, from bats to tax revenue to anti-strip mining.

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.

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.

"I support the coal mine offer it back to the Forest Service, not offer it as some kind of blackmail plan," Bush said.

"Nothing good comes out of a strip mine."

Bush indicated he supports jobs and energy production in the form of renewable energy, but not those that destroy land and heritage. He said he is sure there are Indian village sites in the property Peabody is seeking as there were villages along all rivers.

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.

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.

He said he is also concerned the land is a known maternity colony for the federally endangered Indiana bat.

Steve Hudson of the Pope County Board said to lose more private land to the federal government is a blow to the already suffering county.

"What hurts us is it takes away from our tax base," Hudson said.

"We lose out and Gallatin County gains. In a small county like we';re in every penny you get is important."

Hudson would like to see the land be used for someone to build a home or use for hunting.

Sam Stearns of the Friends of Bell Smith Springs said he would like to see the Forest Service acquire the land -- especially that in the area of Lusk Creek-- but not at the cost of seeing a parcel of forest land strip mined.

"A strip mine changes the topography of the land forever. It is probably the most devastating thing that can occur on the land. As much as I';d like to have the land on Lusk Creek in the Forest Service, I';m not in favor of giving land to Peabody to do it," Stearns said.

Bob Bailey of Arkansas is most familiar with the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and came to the meeting concerned with the idea of the federal government giving over control of a piece of property. He is also concerned about the potential for pollution to flow from the mine in the Saline River and into the Ohio River.

However, Bailey said he had not made up his mind on whether or not the support the proposal.

"There are months left in the process so I';m trying to keep an open mind," he said.

Scott agreed there are Indiana bats known in the federal parcel in Gallatin County. There is a documented maternity colony on the property and the rare bats use the property to find food. However, the bats have not been documented to remain on the property on a permanent basis.

"We know this is an issue we are going to have to work through," Scott said.

He said the Forest Service will work with Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which regulates the Endangered Species Act. Scott said it is not clear the swap would violate the Endangered Species Act and biologists will have to consider the effects of the land trade on the bat species.

He said Peabody would also have to operate within the bounds of the Endangered Species Act regarding any move to clear the area for a mine.

Scott said the creation of a mine would probably not cause bats to die directly. A tree is not likely to crush a bat. But biologists will have to take into consideration the blow to the bat population if land they currently use for foraging and for a maternity colony is disrupted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could be concerned about the issue or may not be concerned, Scott said.

He said if the Fish and Wildlife Service determines the loss of property will be of great detriment to the Indiana bats the land trade might not happen.

Materials on the proposal are at the Shawnee National Forest Web site

Comments may be made by Jan. 31, 2012. Comments should include the project title ALHI-Shawnee NF Land Exchange Proposal, the date the comment was written, the commenter';s name and contact information in order to keep the project mailing list updated.

The Forest Service invites online comments to be sent to

Written comments may be mailed to Huston A. Nicholas, Forest Supervisor, Shawnee National Forest, ATTN: ALHI-Shawnee NF Land Exchange Proposal, 50 Highway 145 South, Harrisburg, Ill. 62946.

For additional information or if interested in visiting the non-Federal parcels people may contact Ron Scott at (618) 253-1038 or e-mail him at



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