A Matter of Heritage: A Forest with Civil War-Era Trees Should Not Be Logged

Jeff Stant in front of an American Beech tree in Yellowwood State Forest.In the Yellowwood Backcountry Area, there stands a tree older than our nation. It’s an American Beech, 33 inches (almost three feet) in diameter. This tree, we discovered, is 238 years old, and started growing during the American Revolution. What a treasure, here in our Indiana state forests.

Did you know that, until IFA’s Ecoblitz, there has never been a comprehensive inventory of the plants and animals on a tract of state or national forestland in Indiana? While the DNR’s Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment gauges pre- and post-logging presence for a handful of species, the Ecoblitz provides a broader picture.

Four years ago, with permission and permits from the DNR, IFA began conducting the Ecoblitz an inventory of all life in a 900-acre tract of older unlogged state forest. Twelve teams of scientists from 12 colleges and universities and volunteers have spent hundreds of hours, in all seasons and times of day seeking birds in the early morning, seeking bats in the middle of the night to undertake this survey (made possible with the support of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and the Efroymson Family Fund). The premise is that more data could help inform decisions about forest management.

This year, we are culminating this survey with a study of the forest itself: a forest characterization study. It’s a methodical, in-process effort to gauge the quality, diversity and age of this forest. Dendrochronologists from Ball State University, Indiana University and Hanover College along with Dr. Leslie Bishop, Professor Emerita of Biology, Earlham College; state-certified arborist Jerome Delbridge; IFA Executive Director Jeff Stant; and IFA Ecoblitz Coordinator Samantha Buran have some exciting preliminary results that should be of interest to the Division of Forestry and Governor Holcomb.

Forty-seven trees live were cored (a process that does not harm live trees). The highlights:

– The range of tree ages is from 80 years to 238 years. 
– 8 of these trees are from 80 to 99 years old.
– 39 of these trees are equal to or more than 100 years old.
– 27 of these trees are equal to or more than 110 years old.
– 20 of these trees are equal to or more than 120 years old.
– 11 of these trees are equal to or more than 130 years old.
– 5 of these trees are equal to or more than 140 years old.
– And 3 of these trees are equal to or more than 150 years old.

Dr. Leslie Bishop measures a tulip poplar.Two of the three oldest trees are inside the proposed Yellowwood logging area (Tract 3): the 238-year-old American Beech, and a Northern Red Oak, also in Tract 3. It is younger, but larger at 37.2 inches in diameter. It is 163 years old and thus began to grow in 1854, seven years before the Civil War. The forest characterization team also documented a SugarMaple in, Tract 3. It is 154 years old.

The team cored the largest trees from 13 species that were good candidates for coring.

As part of the study still in progress the team is analyzing historical information about the whole area, including aerial photos that show that the vast majority of this forest in Tract 3 in the area proposed to be logged was closed-canopy forest in 1939. This indicates that this forest is more than 100 years old.

Division of Forestry staff insist that they are going to leave some of the largest trees. But their logging plans do not provide this assurance. Regardless, single tree selection, cutting inferior tree species, thinning, removal of cull trees, and widespread salvage logging of ash, poplar and oak (quoting from their management plan) will destroy a healthy forest ecosystem on its way to being old growth. And old growth is very rare in Indiana state forests.

According to the Division of Forestry’s own Continuous Forest Inventory**, out of the 151,092 acres that comprise our state forest, only 493 acres are 160 years or older. Of the 24,312 acres making up Yellowwood State Forest, no acres are 160 years or older.

Clearly, by canceling plans to harvest in these three tracts, the DOF will be adhering to its own commitment in the 2015 & 2016 Forest Stewardship Council audits to restore old growth forests in the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood Back Country Area.

Moving forward with these plans in this older forest in the heart of the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood BCA, given the paucity of Indiana state forest land with the age of this forest, will make a mockery of that commitment.

This is why we must all let Governor Holcomb know, along with our state senators and representatives, before it’s too late, that these logging plans need to be cancelled. It’s a matter of knowledge, heritage, and principle.

footnote: **(Indiana DNR State Forest Properties Report of Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) Summary of years 2012-2016,” Joey Gallion, See Tables 2 & 5). About 5,000 acres in our state forests are lakes, ponds and campgrounds, and other non-forested ground.

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