Called too hasty

Laura McPhee

Environmentalists from around the state have announced they are withdrawing their support and participation for the Indiana State Forest Stewardship Program administered by the Department of Natural Resources.

In a letter to DNR officials made public on Dec. 19, seven members of the Forest Stewardship Committee, including representatives from the Indiana Forest Alliance and Heartwoods Forest Watch, expressed their dissatisfaction with new DNR policies.

"While we have the highest respect for members of the committee with whom we have enjoyed a productive working relationship, and high regard for the committee's mission," the letter states, "we are concerned by an emerging pattern of questionable behavior by the leadership of the Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Forestry that calls the merit of our continued participation into question and threatens the integrity of the committee itself."

The environmentalists cite numerous grievances as the basis of their protest, most directly related to the DNR's new Strategic Plan for the Division of Forestry.

While they share many of the plan's stated goals, the group says they are particularly concerned by "the haste with which the plan was drafted; the lack of public participation or formal review; the almost complete absence of an assessment of potential harm; and the selective use of science to rationalize a predetermined outcome rather than to evaluate a range of possible alternatives.

"We strongly encourage the leadership of the Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Forestry to recommit to an inclusive, representative and respectful State Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee as originally envisioned and chartered by former State Forester Burnell Fischer," the letter concludes.

The Indiana State Forest Stewardship Committee oversees federal funds granted to states to assist in securing conservation easements on forestlands threatened with conversion to non-forest uses as part of the USDA Forest Legacy Program.

Properties located in environmentally important forested areas that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses are eligible for participation in the program. Eligible properties must contain a minimum of 75 percent forest cover, but some states have an even higher threshold. A Forest Stewardship Plan for the property must be included in all Forest Legacy project applications.

For a complete list of Indiana's Legacy Forests visit www.nuvo.net/blog/lmcphee/.

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