In 2015, HeartLands Conservancy began working with partners in Southern Illinois to assist the US Forest Service with acquisitions of critical inholdings of the Shawnee National Forest.
A critical inholding is a property that is completely or almost completely surrounding by publicly owned land. The Forest Service identifies “critical” inholdings as properties that are most important for efficient management and ecological value to the Shawnee National Forest (among other things).
In 2016, HeartLands Conservancy, with funding from Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Grand Victoria Foundation, acquired a 149-acre Alexander County property containing a ancient cypress swamp and frequently flooded farmland. The property was a high-priority for the Forest Service because of its location within the Mississippi River floodplain and its natural features.
Cypress swamps are among the world’s most diverse habitats and act as natural sponges that help soak water into the soil and reduce impacts of flooding. Bald cypress trees can live for thousands of years, but have declined in numbers of the last century due to logging and loss of wetlands.
After acquiring the property, HeartLands worked with partners at Ducks Unlimited, the Arbor Day Foundation, and US Fish and Wildlife Service to plant over 26,000 trees and construct wetlands on the field. The US Forest Service also conducted a bat survey and the Illinois Botanizer conducted a plant inventory.
In September 2021, HeartLands Conservancy sold the property to the US Forest Service for inclusion in the Shawnee National Forest. Proceeds from the sale will go toward other natural area acquisitions and restorations.