Protecting Our Wild Public Forests
Senate Bill 420
In an overflowing committee room, the Senate Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on SB 420 on February 13th, but no vote was taken. Bill supporters including distinguished Indiana biologists, state forest neighbors and others testified for the bill. The Indiana DNR opposed SB 420. At present it appears the bill will not move forward this session.
A week later, over 600 people filled the south atrium of the statehouse to voice their support for old growth forest protection at the Stand Up for Your Forests Rally. Speakers included representatives of the Indiana Forest Alliance (the rally organizer), HEC, Sierra Club, noted Indiana economist Morton Marcus, State Representatives Mike Braun (R-Jasper), Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), and State Senator Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington).
Senator Eric Bassler (R-Washington) has introduced SB 420, a bill that provides that 10% of each Indiana state forest will be designated an “old forest area”, where natural forest processes will be allowed to occur without timber management. The Indiana DNR will determine which specific areas are designated as old forest. An old forest area must be at least 500 acres in size if possible.
Although timber management is prohibited in old forest areas, traditional recreational uses will continue, including fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and gathering wild edibles. The bill allows control of invasive species to occur in old forest areas.
Why is the Old Forest bill needed?
- Prior to 2005, a moderate amount of logging in the Indiana state forests allowed designated backcountry areas and areas with maturing forest to be off limits to timber management. In 2005 a new state forest management plan called for a dramatic increase in logging, more than quadrupling the amount of timber cut on our public state forests. (IDNR Division of Forestry Strategic Plan 2005-07, IDNR DOF2015 Annual Report)
- Subsequent to adopting this new forest plan that increased logging, DNR officials committed to “set aside areas for recreational, ecological, or aesthetic reasons that are free from timber harvests.” (Indiana State Forests: Environmental Assessment 2008-2027). DNR biologists recommended that about 10% of state forests be set aside to provide areas of over-mature trees and for natural disturbance processes to develop. (Recommendations for management of DNR Forest Properties, DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, September 1, 2005). DNR commitments to set aside adequate areas as old forests have not been fulfilled.
- In the 1970’s and 80’s, Republican Governors Otis Bowen and Bob Orr established “backcountry areas” in Indiana state forests where wilderness-type recreation would be provided and logging curtailed. Under the new state forest plan these areas are now subject to increased logging.
- State forests supply only a very small percentage of the commercial timber harvested in Indiana – about 5 to 7% annually(Indiana Consulting Foresters Stumpage Timber Price Reports). The vast majority of timber harvested in Indiana comes from private land. (Indiana Timber Product Output reports, USDA Forest Service)
- Indiana’s twelve state forests encompass about 158,000 acres. This area represents about 3% of Indiana’s total forest area of 4.9 million acres. (DNR, and USDA Forest Service, Forests of Indiana 2014).