A legislative study committee met last Thursday at the Statehouse and decided not to block logging efforts in the backcountry areas of Morgan Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests. The land was set aside by Indiana Governor Robert Orr in 1981, no logging has taken place in the backcountry since 1975.
Representatives Matt Pierce and Ralph Foley, who sought to stop the state from logging the 3000 acre portion of land, addressed the committee. Pierce stated that "it makes sense to allow nature to do its work," while Foley spoke of "the merit of untouched forests."
Foley acknowledged in his address that timber is a crop which needs to be managed and harvested from time to time. This sentiment was echoed by others who spoke to the committee including representatives from the Indiana Hardwood Lumberman's Association and the Department of Natural Resources.
Steve Backs of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, who also spoke to the committee, commented on the necessity of disturbance in the forest. Some wildlife need a younger forest with canopy openings to thrive, such as the visually striking cerulean warbler. According to a report to which Backs contributed, many songbirds thrive more effectively in a managed forest than in an unmanaged one. Backs feels it necessary to provide disturbance to the forest for "failure to do so would be benign neglect and a dereliction of duty."
Increased management activity and timbering seems to be in keeping with DNR's state forest plan. In the Indiana State Forests Environmental Assessment, the subheading to the document reads: "Increased emphasis on management and sustainability of oak-hickory communities on the Indiana state forest system." Oak and hickory are species that do not tolerate shade well, thus their management requires some thinning of forests. The assessment states that the new timber harvest regime marks an increase from historical levels.
Steve Backs claims that low harvesting levels in the past could be attributed to administrations that did not wish to become embroiled in the controversy that logging brings, noting that the Hoosier National Forest has not had a large commercial timber sale since 1984.
Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director at the Hoosier Environmental Council feels scientific evidence stating that thinning is necessary for the health of the oak-hickory forest is not conclusive, and fear for the decline of oak-hickory may be overstated. Maloney points to appointees by the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels as responsible for effectively quadrupling logging in the state.
Maloney at the HEC contends that it is appropriate to adopt a policy of no logging in the backcountry and that forests there should be left for recreational, aesthetic and ecological purposes.
DNR officials cite the importance of early successional forest, which provides a distinctly different habitat from old growth forest, yet Maloney notes that on the grand scale of Indiana's 4.8 million acres of forested land, not much is left completely untouched. Merely 13,000 of Hoosier National Forest's 200,000 acres are untouched.
State Representative of Bloomington Matt Pierce plans to draft legislation again in January that would block logging in the backcountry areas of Morgan Monroe and Yellowwood. Maloney acknowledges that passage of this legislation will be challenging, but states that the HEC would look forward to supporting and working with Pierce on the project.
Groups such as the Indiana Forest Alliance plan on pursuing the matter. For more information visit their website, www.indianaforestalliance.org. To view DNR's environmental assessment and action plan visit www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/files/fo-ea.pdf