Protecting Our Wild Public Forests

State Forests planning bill introduced

January 21, 2019

East Fork of Honey Creek, Morgan-Monroe Yellowwood State Forests Backcountry Area

 

Senator John Ruckelshaus (R-Indy) has filed Senate Bill 610, a bill to establish a state forest commission along with a formal planning process for state forests.

Here’s the summary of the bill:

The bill establishes the Indiana State Forest Commission.  It requires the commission to issue a written report establishing a plan for the management of the state forests for the 100 year period beginning in 2022. The state forest management plan must embody the following principles:
(1) The state forests must be managed according to several different long term management practices, and the management practices used in managing a state forest or a part of a state forest must be determined according to the priority use of the state forest or part of a state forest.

(2) All land within the state forests must be assigned a priority use based on the following categories:
(A)  areas optimized for game and nongame recreational use, including the hunting of different game species and the support of habitat for nesting and migration of a diversity of nongame species.

(B) areas optimized for high quality commercial lumber production.

(C) areas set aside to allow unmanaged natural succession for species native to the indigenous climate zone.

(3) A determination must be made as to what percentage of all state forest property will be assigned to each of these categories.

The bill also requires the Natural Resources Commission to adopt rules incorporating the Indiana State Forest Commission’s determination about the percentage of state forest land falling within each of the three “priority use” categories. It requires the Natural Resources Commission, every seven years, to conduct a review of the implementation of the Indiana State Forest Commission’s plan and to adopt rules to revise the plan, as appropriate.

Why is a formal planning process — with meaningful public participation — needed?

  • Established backcountry areas, old forest areas, and popular hiking trails have no protection at present from DNR’s intensive logging program.  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. The vast majority of timber harvested in Indiana comes from private land. (Indiana Timber Product Output reports, USDA Forest Service)
  • Indiana’s thirteen 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 2017).

SB 610 has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, where it awaits a committee hearing.  HEC is continuing its analysis of the bill and any needed improvements.