Preservationists cry foul over state plan to log 300 acres of state forest

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A state plan to log nearly 300 acres of wooded land in the Yellowwood State Forest backcountry has some preservation activists crying foul over concern that the project would disrupt a popular hiking trail and the animal habitats for some rare species.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry's plan is to sell to a private bidder the opportunity to log three tracts of forests, possibly sometime this winter. The state could net about $150,000 from the contracts, according to state forester John Seifert, but the amount would depend on the species of wood and grade value that is included in the tracts.

The logging could generate 475,000 to 715,000 board feet of timber and involve some trees that are 150 to 200 years old.

That’s worrisome to advocacy group Indiana Forest Alliance, which has raised concerns in the past about the state’s reliance on logging to generate revenue for its forestry agency. Executive Director Jeff Stant said the plans contradict a 1980 commitment by the agency to maintain the character of the area as an old-wood forest.

“We’re very concerned about this,” Stant said. “This is going to decimate the most beautiful deep-forest wilderness remaining in the state forest system. They promised to maintain it as an older forest. They’re just throwing all that out.”

But Seifert said it’s the agency's job to “manage the state forest,” including “doing certain things in the forest to retain its health and renew it.”

“We’ve had harvests in this backcountry area,” Seifert said. “It is allowed by our policy. It’s better to utilize those trees before they die. There are folks who want you to think we’re out there spray-painting [all of the] trees and going crazy, and that’s just not the case."

He said foresters at the state will use a process called single-tree selection, which removes individual trees that are ready for harvest, of low value or in competition with other trees. It also removes individual trees of different size classifications uniformly throughout the stand to maintain an uneven-aged stand.

Advocates say they are concerned about the wildlife in the area, which they say contains an estimated 3,800 species in the 900 acres of forest surrounding and including the 300 acres planned to be logged.

According to a study by the Indiana Forest Alliance, the backcountry forest contains two maternity roots of the federally endangered Indiana bat, a den containing a state-endangered mother timber rattlesnake and her young, and two species the state has deemed of special concern: families of worm-eating warblers and smoky shrews.

“These species are all declining,” Stant said. “They’re limited to the deep forest in this part of the state, found nowhere else.”

Seifert said he doesn't believe the logging would hurt wildlife in the area, which he said his agency tracks. He used the example of a bird, which “doesn’t necessarily use a 20-acre home-range,” but rather a much larger home-range with different areas for its nesting and foraging.

“If you impact a small part of their home-range, do you really negatively impact it?” Seifert said. “They’re mobile.”

Also of concern to advocates is the fact that the logging will disrupt the Tecumseh Trail, which popular with hikers.

“There will be no way you won’t know you’re walking through a heavily logged forest,” Stant said. “When they’re going through, it’s going to look like an oak savannah.”

Seifert acknowledged that “it’s always going to look a little different” after logging, but “three years after the fact, most people don’t know what happened.” 

“We have hundreds of miles of hiking trail,” he added. “We will reroute the trail to another area.”

Ultimately, Stant is hoping Gov. Eric Holcomb steps in to stop the logging plans.

“He can stop this with one phone call,” Stant said. 

Holcomb's office did not immediately reply to IBJ's request for comment Monday morning.

Indiana’s forest and hardwood industry has a total economic impact of $13.5 billion and employs nearly 31,000 people, according to the state. The state is a leading producer of wood office furniture, cabinets, manufactured homes and other wood products.

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