To the editor:
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ plan to log Yellowwood Back Country Area is being driven by an ideological obsession to manage trees in our state forests as a crop rather than concern about the health of the forest as asserted by DNR Assistant Director of Communications Marty Benson in a letter to the editor published in the Daily Journal on Dec. 6, 2017.
Rather than logging virtually all of the state forests, the law that Benson sites requires DNR to manage the state forests for all Hoosiers’ benefit.
Mr. Benson is mischaracterizing the history of this forest and DNR’s role in its return. It was not “an ecosystem that barely existed until the foresters planted it.” Aerial photographs taken of this area in 1939 show most of it was closed canopy forest. Tract histories indicate DNR has inventoried forest stands, let the forest grow older and reforest naturally and did no planting, thinning or harvesting on most of the 29 tracts in the Back Country Area.
Nine of the “previous 13 harvests” that Benson refers to took place before the Back Country Area was created in 1981. The other four were carried out since Division of Forestry Director Jack Seifert, architect of the 400 percent increase in logging in the state forests, took over their management in 2005. These four were in single tracts on the perimeter of the Back Country Area not extending across three tracts to its center as this logging will.
While DNR’s forestry improves forests for timber harvests, forests thin themselves naturally and do not need foresters to accomplish this task. If DNR were logging for the health of the forest, it would recognize research that indicates certain percentages of each subspecies of ash are resistant to the ash borer although their genetic markers have yet to be determined. DNR’s plan to log ashes whether they’re resistant or not will hasten the demise of this species.
To reach these trees they will be building roads throughout the logging area, damaging many other trees, crushing box turtles, salamanders and other animals which hibernate in the humus, scraping forest to bare dirt and opening the forest to more sunlight. IU research shows that these very logging activities have caused explosions of Japanese Stiltgrass and other nonnative invasive plants throughout the state forests.
Two hundred and twenty-eight scientists from 11 Indiana colleges and universities, including three from Franklin College, wrote to Gov. Eric Holcomb urging him to let areas in our state forests like this one return to the old growth condition to maintain their health and resiliency to an onslaught of diseases, pests and erratic weather.
They assert that setting aside areas of our state forests as controls enables managers to understand whether adjacent forests are being logged sustainably and determine how natural forests are regenerating and responding to climate change. Indeed before 2005, 40 percent of Indiana’s state forests, 60,000 acres, were set aside for recreational and ecological purposes and as “Old Forest” control areas. Today that percentage has been reduced to 2.5 percent, 4,000 acres, so that 97.5 percent of our state forests can be managed for timber production.
We do not have state corn fields or state soybean fields in Indiana. Our limited state forests should not be managed as though their primary purpose is to provide trees as a crop to a few private timber buyers. Former Gov. Robert Orr recognized the true public value of this more-than century-old-forest when he set it aside as a “Back Country Area” in 1981 for the “wilderness seeker” to “experience a forested area looking much the same as it may have appeared a century and a half ago.”
Please ask Governor Holcomb to uphold this legacy for you and your grandchildren.