Logging our state forests

Something in me can’t stand solicitations, whether they come via the telephone or at my front door. So when the young man with a clipboard and a goofy-looking knit cap showed up to tell me about the recent plan by the Department of Natural Resources to increase its commercial timber haul in Indiana’s state forests, I was eager to shoo him away and get back to my dinner.

After all, the Daniels Administration’s eagerness to sell off our public assets is an old story by now. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything in this state that’s not for sale.

Last summer, for example, there was a flap involving the BP oil refinery in Whiting, up on Lake Michigan. In that case, the state’s Department of Environmental Management was ready to let BP increase the amount of toxic waste it dumps into the lake. This idea didn’t sit well with people who rely on the lake for their drinking water. Gov. Daniels, on the other hand, begged to differ. He said the added pollution was scientifically acceptable; what’s more, he claimed that holding BP to strict pollution standards would cost Northwest Indiana jobs.

Now something similar is happening, this time involving logging on public lands. It’s what brought that young man to my door. He was representing the Indiana Forest Alliance, a group that’s dedicated to ending commercial logging in state forests.

According to the IFA, the DNR is prepared to live with a 400 percent logging increase in state forests from now through 2012. Of immediate concern is the DNR’s plan to log back country sections in Southern Indiana’s Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests, areas where some of the state’s oldest hardwood trees are found — which also happen to be among the most financially valuable as far as lumber buyers are concerned.

The DNR says this is nothing more than good forest management. But that belies the enthusiasm Daniels has shown for making the most of Indiana’s timber industry.

On a trade mission to Japan in 2006, Daniels proudly unveiled a new logo promoting “premium Indiana forest products.” At the time, Andy Miller, head of Indiana’s Department of Agriculture, called hardwoods a key part of Indiana’s economic development strategy. In an article posted on MidwestBusiness.com, it was stated that more wood is consumed annually in the U.S. than all metals, plastics and masonry cement combined. No less an authority than Sen. Richard Lugar was quoted: “Trees hold great economic importance for our state. Indiana forests contribute more than $9 billion to our economy annually and our 4.3 million acres of timberland support 54,000 jobs … it is imperative that we invest even more in this industry’s future.”

Lest we forget, Indiana’s economy is nothing to brag about — hasn’t been since the 1970s. So when some aspect of our moneymaking pie chart shows a profit, well, a certain tension is bound to set in. In this case, the fact that we have trees that someone wants to buy is an almost irresistible temptation to sell.

But the IFA says it shouldn’t be this way. Indiana’s state forests account for just 150,000 acres out of more than 4 million acres of forest statewide. The IFA points out that the demand for timber can be easily met by sustainable harvesting on private lands and they back that up by asserting that Indiana now produces 40 percent more wood than we use. Finally, the IFA says that logging on public lands is actually at cross-purposes with the state’s timber industry because it undermines the ability of local logging companies to increase profits from logging private lands.

Just as IDEM tried to make dumping more pollution into Lake Michigan seem like sound science and good economic policy, you can count on the DNR trying to make cutting down some of the most ancient trees on public lands seem like responsible forestry and a way to help nearby counties finance local schools and roads. The Daniels Administration may call this trading up. It’s selling out.

The good news is that, time and again, public protest has forced the Daniels Administration to back away from such shortsighted schemes. To find out more, go to www.indianaforestalliance.org.

Or the next time a kid with a clipboard and a goofy-looking cap calls, answer the door.

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