About 200 protesters chanted as state officials oversaw the sale of timber rights on 300 acres of two state forests in southern Indiana.
The rights to about 1,700 trees sold for nearly $109,000 Thursday morning at Yellowwood State Forest near Nashville. That's less than the $150,000 that the Department of Natural Resources expected before environmental activists began calling on Gov. Eric Holcomb to stop the sale.
Indiana Forest Alliance director Jeff Stant says the state is losing a precious part of its old-growth woodland in Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe state forests. Some of the trees involved are likely 150 to 200 years old.
State officials say the logging is part of a well-researched forest management plan.
A DNR spokesman didn't immediately respond to questions about what the agency would do with protesters who have set up an encampment in the logging area.
Jack Seifert, director of the DNR's Division of Forestry, said foresters at the site 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.
One bid presented by Daniel Antes, founder of Distinctive Hardwood Floors in Brown County, offered $150,000 with the intention of preserving the trees for 100 years.
"Our goal was to get the sale to stop and give DNR the funding they're looking for and actually got substantially less than we offered," Antes said. "We want to preserve this public legacy."
Seifert declined to comment about the offer, but Antes said it wasn't considered because only licensed timber buyers were eligible to bid. Antes said the group would discuss whether its offer could sway the winning bidder.
It will be up to the timber company to decide when to begin the logging work, which must be completed by the end of March, DNR spokesman Marty Benson said.
Those at Thursday's protest held signs reading "A forest is community not a commodity" and "Save our trees." Some protesters have set up an encampment on private property near the logging area.
Retired Earlham College biology professor Leslie Bishop attended the protest, a week after she delivered to the governor's office a letter signed by nearly 230 Indiana scientists asking that the woodland be protected. She argued that the logging could hurt tourism in Brown County and that fewer trees can lead to poorer air quality.
"They just sold these trees at $68 a tree," Bishop said. "I mean that is not a profit."