By: M. Jayn Bigler  Date: 01/16/2012 Category: | Animal Rights Extremism |

The Shawnee National Forest in extreme southern Illinois has been a hotbed of controversy for years, first over timber-cutting, then ATV use, and now the battlefield has turned to horses on the trails.

The battle has gone up a notch. Trail riders have found heavy-gauge fishing line strung across several trails at neck height of horseback riders, and spiked boards have been found camouflaged under fallen leaves. Last year, on other trails, barbed wire that could easily trip a horse had been strategically placed on trails where there were precipices or rock walls so the horses could not get around them. The year before that, boxes of nail jacks were found next to horse trails and spread on one trail.

This latest round of eco-terrorism is aimed at members of the Shawnee Trail Conservancy, a local trail advocacy group that has led the fight to keep forest trails open to horses and other users.

The first evidence of the fishing line booby traps was found in mid-August on trails near the property of Clyde Schmidt, the current vice-president of STC. The first trap was discovered by a mountain biker who had entered the forest from Schmidt's property. The lines were strung at neck height for an ATV rider*, a mountain biker, or a hiker.

At least a dozen of the traps were found near Schmidt's property.

"This was aimed at me," Schmidt told a local newspaper. "It was right off my property and it was 40- or 50-pound line, not six-pound test for crappie. It was not designed to trip you. This was an attempt to hurt or kill people if they use the woods."

Two days later, more booby traps were found. This time they were targeted at horseback riders and located on national forest trails near property owned by Bill and Cheryl Blackorby, founders and current board members of the Shawnee Trail Conservancy. Bill is the STC president.

Fishing line discovered near their land was strung at neck height for a person on horseback.

Because the Forest Service closed horse trails in natural areas, some horse campgrounds are land-locked from usable parts of the forest. The Blackorbys have constructed trails on their property so that riders can access unrestricted areas.

Horse use in the forest is strongly opposed by environmentalists in the area. Leaders of groups such as Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists and the local chapter of the Sierra Club have claimed no knowledge of the booby traps and have even asserted that the traps were laid by horseback and ATV riders themselves for publicity.

"That's insane," Schmidt said. "Why would we try to hurt our own people? This is eco-terrorism, pure and simple."




A spokesman for the Shawnee National Forest supervisor's office in Harrisburg, Illinois, said that the forest's law enforcement officers are investigating the traps. Schmidt said he reported the incidents to the Federal Bureau of Investigation but was told that the FBI could do nothing until the Forest Service requested assistance. Shawnee officials have not done so as of NAIA News deadline.

Anyone with information about the sabotage is urged to call the Shawnee National Forest supervisor at (618) 253-7114.

* All-terrain vehicles are prohibited in Shawnee National Forest (except for handicapped riders who have a permit), but some ATV users do ride illegally in many areas of the forest.

M. Jayn Bigler is the founder of The Standard: Sport and Companion Animal News, a newspaper for sportsmen and pet owners in Illinois and surrounding states and a member of the STC board of directors.

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Member/Volunteer/Partner/Article Writer of the National Animal Interest Alliance.

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