Harvesting timber in our state forests

Indiana"s state forests have been at the center of a heated debate among some acrimonious acronyms, with the IFA facing off against the DNR and the IWF over provisions in the IEPA.

Donna McNeely directs the Indiana Forest Alliance"s efforts in the Indianapolis area.

Last month, the Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its Division of Forestry. The lawsuit sought to stop three timber auctions scheduled for July 16 in Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests. According to the IFA"s complaint, the DNR has been violating the Indiana Environmental Policy Act (IEPA) by harvesting and selling timber in state forests without fully considering the environmental impact of its actions. The DNR proceeded with the July 16 timber auctions in spite of the lawsuit, collecting $99,631 in sales. But the debate rages on.

"The Indiana Environmental Policy Act requires state agencies to analyze the environmental impact of their actions and allow for public participation in doing so," says Donna McNeely, who directs the IFA"s efforts in the Indianapolis area. "We would like to see to it that the DNR takes a good look at some of the environmental costs of its actions and publicly acknowledge problems such as soil erosion, degradation of water quality, increased risk of flooding and harm to threatened species caused by its timber program."

The DNR considers these claims baseless. "The Forest Alliance got it wrong both with respect to the environment and the law," claims Stephen Sellers, public information officer of the DNR. "The Department of Natural Resources fully complies with the Indiana Environmental Protection Act."

The Indiana Wildlife Federation (IWF) has voiced strong opposition to the lawsuit filed by the IFA. "IWF believes this action is a waste of taxpayer dollars," says the IWF"s executive director, Paula Yeager. "They contend that DNR did not comply with the Environmental Policy Act before considering the auctions in the [state forest] properties. According to forestry officials at DNR, the state forestry department provided assessments of these areas and different levels at DNR reviewed them before this action was allowed to proceed.

"We have the fortune of having Purdue University right here in Indiana," Yeager says. "Many of the management tools used today to manage our country"s forests comes from the science they have developed."

"The Indiana Wildlife Federation misses the point," responds the IFA"s McNeely. "Foresters are persons with careers based on the management of forests for commercial timber production. As such, foresters talking amongst themselves is a poor way of determining how forests should be managed."

"My information tells me that the forest faculty at Purdue is not of a single mind about logging these days," adds David Haberman, co-coordinator of the IFA. "Nonetheless, there are foresters at Purdue who see their role primarily as tree harvesters. This is not surprising since the Department of Forestry is in the School of Agriculture."

Indiana"s state forests comprise approximately 150,000 acres. According to the Division of Forestry Web site, state forest timber sales have produced an annual average of $770,000 in revenue over the last 10 years, with expenses amounting to less than 10 percent of revenue.

"At a time when our state financial situation is in peril, the DNR will have to expend financial resources to fight this lawsuit," insists the IWF"s Yeager. "It is wasteful of our tax dollars because a ruling by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton last July ruled against the IFA and in favor of a 1999 decision to maintain forest openings in Hoosier National Forest. Now that they can"t fight management in Hoosier National, our state forests are becoming the next victim in their agenda."

Yeager points to a recent General Accounting Office report stating that the staff at the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife no longer have time to manage wildlife and wildlife habitat. "They are far too busy preparing for lawsuits," she says.

"Many of the actions by controversial groups put many species in peril. While they garner much public support for their cause, and think they are helping wildlife and protecting habitat, they oftentimes do more harm than good by forcing biologists and wildlife management staff to focus on defending the science behind their management practices."

McNeely claims that the DNR has had plenty of time to avoid unnecessary litigation expenses. "In the autumn of 1998, IFA members and other environmentalists put the DNR on notice that the agency was not in compliance with the IEPA and gave the DNR ample opportunity to make efforts toward compliance. The DNR responded by declaring its entire program exempt from application of the law and informing us only after it had done so. The DNR"s stonewalling of us on this issue has given it ample time to prepare its case, and the money it has spent doing so was certainly a waste of public funds."

"The Indiana Wildlife Federation is a conservation organization," Yeager says.

"Many groups today preach they are conservationists, but in reality are preservationists and use emotion to garner support, not science. The science of forest and wildlife management within forest habitat is complicated. That is why there are professionals at the DNR to manage our state forests. Cutting trees to manage for healthy wildlife habitat is just one tool that biologists can use to keep diversity in the flora and fauna, as well as the birds and other mammals."

"Not all biologists agree that creating small clearcuts and logging with heavy machinery is good for forests," McNeely counters. "In fact, a growing number of biologists are concerned with the effect of loss of genetic diversity within individual species and argue that many species need large areas of contiguous habitat to thrive. Pollyannaish claims to the effect that everything the Division of Forestry does is good for the environment show an unwillingness to accept the awesome responsibility of stewardship of our public lands."

The IFA"s lawsuit failed to stop the July 16 timber sales. Ultimately, though, the legal action likely will result in much closer scrutiny of the harvesting of timber in Indiana"s state forests. And so the debate continues.

Indiana Forest Alliance:


Indiana Wildlife Organization:


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