Cutting the forest for the trees 

In April 2007, Kenneth Day, forest supervisor of the Hoosier National Forest, issued a report detailing what the United States Department of Agriculture has titled the German Ridge Restoration Project. The thrust of the project involves the cutting and clearing of 77 acres of pine trees deep in the Hoosier National Forest.

The pines, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the National Forest Service, are not native to Indiana forest. The land in question was once deforested for agricultural purposes and nearly all the native vegetation was cleared almost 100 years ago. According to Day, “Currently, pine trees occupy growing space that could be returned to native hardwood forest ... It is non-native pine trees that are proposed for removal in this restoration project. Only occasional hardwood trees may need to be removed to ensure safety and allow access for the harvest operations.”

Day admits in his report that it was hard to balance the interests and concerns of the many groups interested in the health and care of the Hoosier National Forest, but concludes that the removal of the pines is ultimately in the best interest of the land and wildlife it harbors.

Jeff Piper has a different view.


Deep forest


From where Piper sits, literally in a house adjacent to the Hoosier National Forest and area being cut, the project resembles destruction much more than it does restoration. Piper and his family live less than four miles from German Ridge on a 74-acre tract in Perry County that borders the forest on nearly four sides.

“Our rectangular piece of land is surrounded by 55,000 acres of national forest, making the U.S. Forest Service our only true neighbor,” he says. “It’s truly a special place. I have personally spent 72 hours alone here and never heard a man-made sound. Being surrounded by deep forest was the fulfillment of a great dream.”

May 23, however, Piper and his 8-year old son, Sam, were shocked when they discovered a brand new mud access road had been started into the only large-growth forestland left in the area. A few days later, the family awoke to what Piper describes as “the squeak, squeal and roar of the bulldozer and track hoe, and the sudden scream of a long barred chainsaw.”

It was the snap, crack and groan created when a 60-foot, 78-year-old tree takes a fall accompanied by the other trees that fall in its wake. “Possibly a single tree crashing to the ground would make less sound, but as one goes down, so many others join in the sorrowful chorus. Other trees of every species and age came down, both hardwood and soft,” according to Piper.

After a short hike into the forest and towards the sound of chainsaws and backhoes, Piper and his son discovered what he describes as one of the most heartbreaking scenes he’s ever witnessed.

“As we explored what looked like a war zone, or Katrina aftermath, I recalled the original proposal, mentioned a year before, was to take out only the pines, a non-indigenous species,” Piper says. “Supposedly, these were planted in the early 1930s because all of the timber had been used up and the land was eroding badly. This land was salvaged and restored by the pines that are now being decimated.”

Piper and his son had stumbled on to the access road that is currently being “altered” to make room for the vehicles that will need to enter the forest to cut the pines.

According to the report filed by Day, cutting the pines is but one aspect of the German Ridge Restoration project. It also includes burning large areas under controlled conditions, cutting grapevines on approximately 85 acres, as well as reconstructing roads and creating temporary roads for the log removal. It was the widening of an existing road that Piper discovered.

“While constructing this monster road, some debris was pushed into vistas closing off two different established two-track dirt roads. These established roads had no large growth trees whatsoever. Both of those lanes intersect the new mud road. The blue spray paint on all the larger trees, as well as many not mature enough to log, means death for each and every one. But they don’t paint-mark the ones that they will smash, bend, break and destroy as they reach the blue painted prize. As an experienced woodsman, I know these innocents will easily equal the marked number.”


A great loss


Piper, 53 and a disabled Vietnam veteran, is not just concerned with the loss of old-growth trees. He also laments the damage this cutting and construction will have on the wildlife that lives in the area.

“The number of nesting songbirds, squirrels, rabbits and others … should have remained unmolested until capable of flight or crawl to escape from a horrible demise.”

After the initial shock at the destruction of his beloved forest, Piper began cell-phoning everyone from his girlfriend to the Governor’s Office. The National Forest Service office returned a call and, by phone, verified that the cutting was authorized.

“They said that they were only after the 78-year-old pines,” Piper says. “This is not at all what is taking place. Good-bye hardwoods. Good-bye wildlife. Good-bye forest. They stated they would be out to inspect the ‘progress’ the next day, May 29. Two forestry trucks showed up, but the personnel disappeared into the woods before we could catch them.”

Piper is committed to trying to stop the German Ridge Restoration Project, as is his young son Sam. Both see the destruction of the forest as a deeply personal and great loss.

To read the National Forest Service’s report on the German Ridge Restoration Project go to:  www.fs.fed.us/r9/hoosier/project_docs/current_analysis.htm

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