- Courtesy of J Heffner Flickr Creative Commons
By John Sittler
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has expanded logging operations on state forest land, a move that has angered environmental groups around the state.
Within the last month, the state has sold nearly 2 million board feet - a unit of volume that is 1 foot long, 1 foot wide, and 1 inch thick. Two of the sales in Morgan-Monroe State Forest total more than was logged in the entire state forest system in 2002.
And the state is set to sell two more tracts of land in Yellowwood State Forest - totaling approximately 200,000 board feet - this week.
Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance, said he can't believe the state has "the audacity to call that balanced management."
"I've certainly seen better days when it comes to the management of our natural resources," he said.
But State Forester John Seifert said the increases are on track with the agency's strategic plan and that operations "are where we want to be."
Seifert said the DNR determined in 2005 that state forests were growing at a rate of 24-30 million board feet per year and that an increase in annual harvest to 12-14 million board feet would leave plenty of reserve.
In 2002, the state harvested 1.4 million board feet.
Stant said timber harvested from state land accounts for less than 5 percent of total board feet cut in the state every year. He said the timber market doesn't depend on state forests and that the DNR is "wiping out the wilderness value to provide trees to a market that doesn't need them."
He said the DNR strategic plan employed young foresters to conduct "justification science."
- Indiana Forest Alliance / DNR
The timber is cut using single and group tree selection. That means individual trees are selected and cut in some areas but up to 9 acres can be clear cut under a policy of "regeneration openings."
Stant said he was glad that method is being used because it mimics the forest's natural processes. But he said logging can accelerate the processes and should not take place on state forest land.
Seifert justified the methods, saying regular timber harvests are necessary as part of overall forest management. He said many species of mammals and songbirds need an "early successional" habitat in order to thrive.
An early successional forest is thinned-out and younger, with scrub brush and an open canopy. That allows for more sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor. Seifert said this habitat is usually created through natural forces such as fire, but that wildfires have largely been contained or eliminated. Therefore, he said, forest management techniques are necessary to maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Much of the controversy comes from the fact that some of the timber sales venture into backcountry terrain.
Tim Maloney, senior policy director with the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the areas have been left alone for more than 30 years and he "would like to see that practice continue."
The state created three backcountry areas in 1981. But the state and its opponents disagree about why.
Stant said the state's primary focus when it created backcountry areas was to protect water quality. He also said that a minor part of the plan included allowing some trees to be cut and provided to local markets when needed to improve the health of the forest.
"It doesn't say they were established primarily to be a wood supply," he said.
Stant said Seifert's "dictatorial" mission is to turn state forests into "his own timber industry fiefdom."
But Seifert said Stant's interpretation of the backcountry plan is a "complete inaccuracy." He said that since 1981, the intent has been to harvest timber from the backcountry areas.
Seifert said the state's logging is certified to adhere to national and international sustainability standards, and the agency's practices are checked by outside auditors.
But Stant said logging in itself is inherently bad for water quality, noting that logged areas experience higher levels of erosion and therefore reductions in water quality.
"I don't see the reason for logging (the backcountry) after 30 years and so much of the rest of the state forests are being managed for timber," Maloney said. "These are areas that should be protected."
Both Maloney and Stant said they are not opposed to the logging industry, and that they support sustainable timber harvesting practices on private land.
John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.