Part 4: A Path to Wilderness in the Shawnee Backcountry

“Without enough wilderness America will change. Democracy, with its myriad personalities and increasing sophistication, must be fibred and vitalized by the regular contact with outdoor growths – animals, trees, sun warmth, and free skies – or it will dwindle and pale.”

– Walt Whitman

Ohio has only one designated state wilderness area, the 8,000-acre Shawnee Wilderness Area. The statue designating this wilderness area provides for its preservation and protection, expressly prohibiting extractive activity, including logging, mining, drilling, and road building. The law even provides for the possibility of future designations of state wilderness areas through legislative designations.

One need not look far from the Shawnee Wilderness Area to find an ideal candidate for greater protections.

The Shawnee Backcountry Management Area (“BCMA” or “Backcountry”) could be considered the “twin sister” of the Shawnee Wilderness Area.  The two share a border, and, like its wilderness twin, the Shawnee Backcountry is 8,000 acres in size. The Backcountry is an ideal candidate for state wilderness designation or, at the least, management for future old-growth habitat characteristics. 

(Map of Shawnee State Forest.  The shaded parcel on the left is the Shawnee Wilderness Area; the Backcountry area is the shaded parcel on the right.)

The Backcountry is an ecologically and recreationally unique and important area that is home to at least 20 state-listed (endangered, threatened, and sensitive) plant and wildlife species, including the bobcat, black bear, four-toed salamander, timber rattlesnake, river redhorse, and eastern box turtle.

 

(Bobcat)                                             (Four-toed salamander)

However, the Shawnee Backcountry itself is threatened and needs the public’s protection. In 2013, the Ohio Division of Forestry (DOF) proposed the elimination of the Backcountry as a special management unit. The public spoke, and DOF tabled its proposal during the annual comment period. In 2014, DOF is again contemplating changing the legal status of the Shawnee Backcountry and opening a road in sensitive species habitat. What better time than now to extend wilderness and future old-growth status to this biodiverse, publicly-owned treasure?

  

(River redhorse)