Letter: Forestry response deserves scrutiny


To the editor:

As Ben Kibbey’s recent article on Indiana’s state forests points out, a scant 18.9 percent of Indiana’s land is in forest cover (ranking us 34th among states — even Ohio has more forestland at 28.9 per- cent). In the Midwest, only the prairie states of Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska have less woodland acres than Indiana.

Barely 20 percent of Indiana’s extant 4.7 million acres of forest, 800,000 acres or so, are publicly owned. Of that, roughly 155,000 acres are managed by the Indiana Division of Forestry of IDNR.

So, one must ask, with such a tiny fraction of such a miniscule remnant of what was once a majestic hardwood forest actually remaining in the “commons” — belonging, that is, to all the citizens of Indiana — why does the state insist on logging every square inch of it?

When Indiana’s citizens are given the opportunity to be heard (even if it requires considerable effort to overcome bureaucratic roadblocks), they affirm overwhelmingly that they want a different approach to public forest management. They demand more than the state forester’s “conceptual” commitment to conservation as the highest priority.

For example, in fall 2015, over 200 Brown County citizens made the futile trek to Indianapolis to voice their concerns to recalcitrant forestry officials about the Division of Forestry 2015-19 Strategic Plan.

Likewise, Indiana Forest Alliance has collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions asking for the preservation of a small fraction of those 155,000 acres Forestry manages — a mere 12 percent — to be saved from logging, so far, to no avail.

The assertions of IDNR Forestry officials about their management of Yellowwood State Forest, reported in Ben’s article, deserve a Brown County reality check. Brown Countians should visit the state-“managed” clear-cuts along Dubois Ridge Road to see for themselves the results of IDNR’s forest policies on the ground. They will quickly understand that the “highest priority” assigned to conservation by the state forester is a joke, and that his disavowal of budgetary motivations for his logging quotas is disingenuous, at best.

There are lasting consequences from forest management decisions. The abysmal oak-hickory regeneration experienced across Yellowwood is a direct result of those decisions, which have led to deeply disturbed areas of the forest now overrun with invasive plants and insects of all sorts. Some of these were introduced intentionally into the forest by misguided IDNR experts in the 1970s and ’80s; others are being brought in by contaminated commercial logging vehicles and DNR road-building equipment.

The state forester claims to take into account the near total obliteration of ash trees from Emerald Ash Borer when he does his 60 percent logging calculations. Does he also include the impending decimation from thousand cankers disease, gypsy moths, oak decline, sudden oak death and Asian longhorn beetles — all of which are already present in Indiana — in his formula?

Does he know or care that fire trails, logging roads and log yards throughout Yellowwood are overrun with Japanese stilt grass, autumn olive, bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, garlic mustard — exotic invasive plants introduced in one way or another by state forest managers, and all thriving because officials are unwilling or unable to turn off the cash faucet that logging represents in order to address any of the real problems facing the forest?

Ben’s article goes into some detail about the state’s plans to respond to anecdotal (and completely undocumented) pressure from users for enhanced camping facilities at the state forests, as well as potential entry fees.

The Forestry 2015-19 Strategic Plan referenced in the article should be of great concern to Brown Countians. No local tradespeople will build the new cabins, only Indiana prison slave labor. No increased monies will come to Brown County for fire, police or ambulance service, or road maintenance as a result of this project. These buildings will be in direct competition with our private tourist housing — and they will operate without the constraints of property taxes, local regulation, insurance and liability costs, etc.

With such a significant portion of Brown County in public lands, and with our livelihoods and wellbeing dependent so heavily on the health of our forests, the citizens of Brown County are in the unique position of being the “canary in the mine” as far as the state forests go.

Thanks to The Democrat for continuing to keep the spotlight on the issue.

Sincerely yours,

Charlie Cole, from the heart of Yellowwood

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