Community Notice

Guest Column: Protecting Indiana Forests, the Bad News and the Good

Is there a forest in the corner of your mind? In our modern lives, it’s a relief knowing that a forest is a place you can go to breathe. Forests offer free therapy, but they are also carriers of our state’s heritage, mitigators of climate change, eco-tourism assets, and symbols of the very idea of wilderness.

But as anyone who recalls the Save Yellowwood campaign knows, public-owned forests in Indiana are also a political battleground. Since 2012, the Indiana Division of Forestry has increased logging by 400 percent. And forest recreation is harder and harder to enjoy given the aggressive logging.

IFA studied the area set for logging in Yellowwood and documented 4,000 species of flora and fauna. | Photo courtesy of Indiana Forest Alliance

IFA studied the area set for logging in Yellowwood and documented 4,000 species of flora and fauna. | Photo courtesy of Indiana Forest Alliance

Enter the Indiana Forest Alliance. We’re the only nonprofit in the state dedicated to speaking out for Indiana’s native forest ecosystem.

One of IFA’s best-known battles was to protect 300 acres of the Yellowwood State Forest Back Country Area in Brown County in 2017. Such Back Country Areas had been left alone since at least the 1980s out of respect to a previous Republican governor, Robert Orr, who set them aside to retain their primitive character. But the current regime at the Indiana Division of Forestry saw fit to log here, no matter that IFA has studied this area, documenting 4,000 species of flora and fauna. IFA’s forest characterization study also proved the area was on the cusp of returning to old growth, with many trees exceeding 110 years of age.

IFA membership launched into action to save this forest. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb received no less than 5,000 calls and letters asking him to call off the cut (and only 24 calls supporting it). But Holcomb let the logging go forward.

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The good news? As a result of the avalanche of calls he got from constituents about Yellowwood, Sen. John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis) has proposed Senate Bill 610, a serious step toward reigning in the Division of Forestry’s log-it-all rampage. SB 610 will:

  • establish a state forest commission that will assess the current management of state forests and propose a 100-year plan for their management
  • ensure that the commission includes forest advocates and ecologists
  • ensure that the study conducted by the commission includes citizen input
  • ensure that the plan clarifies the purpose of each state forest area to achieve balance in the overall state forest system between logging, no logging, recreation, and study/preservation of wildlife habitat
  • establish procedures for wildlife inventory on all state forest lands to be logged
  • mandate a summary of the financial and environmental benefits of forest carbon balances and ensure that the plan considers the effects of climate change.

This is the kind of bill that has a good chance of passing in a bipartisan spirit. IFA Executive Director Jeff Stant calls it “a watershed change.”

Many Hoosiers are unaware that Indiana has large blocks of contiguous forest that are approaching old growth conditions. (left and right photos) But many of these old-growth sections are at risk of being logged, such as what happened in Yellowwood State Forest last year. | Limestone Post (center) This block of the Morgan-Monroe Back Country Area is on the cusp of returning to old growth. | Photo by Elizabeth Mahoney

Many Hoosiers are unaware that Indiana has large blocks of contiguous forest that are approaching old growth conditions. (left and right photos) But many of these old-growth sections are at risk of being logged, such as what happened in Yellowwood State Forest last year. | Limestone Post (center) This block of the Morgan-Monroe Back Country Area is on the cusp of returning to old growth. | Photo by Elizabeth Mahoney

One factor that may tip the balance is a new bombshell of a report just released by IFA: “Concealed Costs of State Forest Timber Sales.” The report’s primary author, Rae Schnapp, Ph.D., is conservation director at IFA.

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With a fine-tooth comb, she analyzes how the state documents the costs of running their logging program (very inconsistently and with little transparency) and what prices the lumber fetches (43 percent lower, on average, than for average-quality timber on private land). Such economic-themed data should be a wake-up call to Hoosier lawmakers who keep a tight grip on the state’s purse strings.

IFA offers “an annual shot of inspiration” by bringing in the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. | Courtesy photo

IFA offers “an annual shot of inspiration” by bringing in the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. | Courtesy photo

Meanwhile, IFA members are also questioning plans to log the Hoosier National Forest (HNF). HNF managers are planning a 4,000-acre logging project called Houston South, which is in the South Fork part of the Lake Monroe watershed. While forest advocates’ requests for an extension to the public comment period were denied, Friends of Lake Monroe and IFA continue to monitor the situation and use every avenue we have to speak out for wild nature in Indiana’s only National Forest.

Over the past two years, two local coalitions have formed: Wild Tecumseh Friends and Mind the Gap (Protectors of the Low Gap Trail). They work on the ground in speaking out for Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe state forests.

While it’s essential, none of this advocacy is easy. So we offer an annual shot of inspiration, in the form of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, happening Sunday, February 17, at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (6-8:30 p.m.; $25, $15 students, $10 youth). Cities around the country host this touring festival, but we like to tailor the content to Indiana.

If you attend, you’ll see a curated set of eight short films about Indiana’s wilderness … and heroic tales of nature’s defenders nationwide. We’ll sprinkle in some homegrown music, by The Hammer & The Hatchet and Forest Gras, and an up-to-the-minute update from the IFA’s Jeff Stant about all of IFA’s latest forest campaigns.

A raffle will include prizes ranging from an expert-led canoe/birding trip for five (courtesy of IndiGo Birding), an inn stay (courtesy of Persimmon Inn), and a plein air painting of Yellowwood State Forest by artist Charlene Marsh. Many more Bloomington businesses such as White Rabbit Copy Service & Digital Printing, JL Waters, Bikesmiths, and Bluestone Tree have stepped up to sponsor or donate a raffle prize.

Such energy, goodwill, and dedication are what makes the Indiana Forest Alliance strong. If you’re someone with a forest in the back — or the front — of your mind, join us at the Wild & Scenic Film Fest, and find your place in the pro-forest movement. Because we’re all public forest owners.

Publisher’s note: Limestone Post is a sponsor of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

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Contributors
Anne Laker
From 2016 to 2019, Anne Laker served as director of communications & administration at the Indiana Forest Alliance, where she managed IFA’s brand and messaging, inspiring Hoosiers to engage in the movement to preserve Indiana’s forests. Before joining IFA, she earned a B.A. in Humanities from Loyola University Chicago and an M.A. in English from IUPUI and worked for the nonprofit cultural sector as a project manager and writer. She hosts a movie review radio show on the Indianapolis station WQRT 99.1. She enjoys canoeing, hiking, and stargazing. Anne says: “We have so much to learn from nature's inherent engineering and all its poetry.”
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