Monday, October 3, 2016

Letter: Globally rare forest cut down for unremarkable plan

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 8:50 AM

Children gathered at the 9/29 meeting at the War Memorial - KATHERINE COPLEN
  • Katherine Coplen
  • Children gathered at the 9/29 meeting at the War Memorial
Editor's note: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) plans to cut down most of the old growth forest on the grounds of Crown Hill Cemetery. The Indiana Forest Alliance has mounted a campaign to stop the project by contacting legislators. Find out more here. 

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On September 29, I went to the Indiana War Memorial where the Veterans Administration (VA) presented their new 100 year plan, a phased approach installing a columbarium in the north woods portion of Crown Hill Cemetery. The particular spot they chose is a forest remnant, once part of the great Eastern Deciduous Forest that covered the Midwest.

This forest remnant is truly a relic of natural change since the Wisconsin glacier which retreated 12-18,000 years ago. Of course the plant life isn't that old but the undisturbed soils and the natural forest we see today is rooted in that ancient past. The post-glacial Spruce Conifer forest was here in central Indiana. That early ice age forest gave way to other types of forests that evolved (including hot and dry pine associations) in concert with the changing climate.

More recently in the last 300-500 years we have the forest community today with elm, ash, oak, hickory, beech and maple. We know the forest type sequences from pollen analysis done by scientists in the 1940s from early peat bogs, which were created by glacial events. These natural bogs were destroyed —- one was at the base of the southwest portion of the kame (glacial deposit) where Crown Hill is situated. There was also bog in Broad Ripple —- Bacon Swamp and one near Southport.

Most of the original forests in the county were cleared by 1865 according to agricultural reports. To have forested remnants in the county today is rare. Other notable forest remnants in Indianapolis: Woollens Garden Nature Preserve, Eagles Crest Woods Nature Preserve, Holliday Park and Raymond Park. The Crown Hill remnant forest was on private land and it was not considered a community asset when it sold to the VA and their vision didn't include the forest.

The VA stated several times they did everything right and went through the environmental process. However, that process isn't primarily to save, restore, and manage a community's natural resources. It is also a process to permit development. The NEPA process generated a "found no significant impact" (FONSI) to natural resources or wildlife. The report did mention three wetlands but stated the VA planned to avoid, minimize or mitigate as a measure. The VA hasn't mentioned the wetlands and IDEM has not received any notice. The FONSI also stated that the VA would follow DNR recommendations to minimize impacts. A concerned veteran asked the VA official Thursday, "Has the VA walked the site with DNR?" The answer was yes. But upon checking with DNR, I found no site visit was asked for and no further contact has been made. The VA official made no mention of following DNR recommendations dated 1-2014.
I'm puzzled why the VA couldn't have asked Crown Hill to sell them the highly disturbed wooded parcel to the far west end of the woods. This area was previously cleared, has no wetlands, and has no large timber. That portion is infested with non-native trees and shrubs. Instead their plan is now both unremarkable and typical. It appears the VA is clearly entrenched. It has invested over three years of planning and over $800,000 so far, and it appears that no amount of discussion will change the plans. Bulldozers are scheduled to start during this holiday season, despite the fact this forest type is listed as state significant and globally rare in the Natural Heritage Database maintained by the Indiana State Division of Nature Preserves. What a loss for Marion County.

Don Miller
Professional Land Steward

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