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Conversations in Southern Illinois highlights conversations with residents, farmers and environmentalists of rural Southern Illinois, home to Shawnee National Forest. It is part of a new occasional series bridging the rural-urban divide in the U.S.

The Shawnee National Forest, which consists of about 280,000 acres of federally managed lands, is the single largest publicly owned body of land in the state of Illinois. There are seven officially designated wilderness areas lying within Shawnee National Forest.

In the 1990s, early environmentalists with Earth First! joined local Southern Illinois residents and took direct action to stop logging in the forest. Their actions resulted in a 17 year moratorium on logging in the forest, saving thousands of trees and greatly benefiting the surrounding community. That struggle was an inspiration to the newly growing environmental movement. But now that moratorium has been lifted and logging restarted. In the past few years, grassroots environmental protection groups have formed to protect these lands.

Today, residents are again mobilizing to protect the environment in the region. Groups including: Friends of Bell Smith Springs, SNAG (Shawnee Natural Area Guardians), SAFE (Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment), and Shawnee Forest Defense! have come together to challenge most recent threats to the Shawnee National Forest and to other parts of Southern Illinois.

In October 2019, the Shawnee Forest Defense! The Global Justice Ecology Project, the Indigenous Environmental Network and others co-sponsored The Resurgence: 2019 North American Forest and Climate Movement Convergence at the forest. The Sojourner Truth team covered the event. After the Convergence, I returned to the area to meet with local residents, including environmentalists.