by Morton J. Marcus
Morton is the Director Emeritus at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Indiana Business Research Center.
It is exciting to find the Indiana General Assembly exploring new directions for state government. Among these is a rethinking of the role played by the State Forests in our economy.
Today, as in the past, the State Forests preserve the natural heritage of Indiana. Extensive acres of woodlands and wetlands provide opportunities for Hoosiers. Some of these opportunities are commercial, others recreational. Logging and hiking both can have impacts on the forests.
The balance between these uses was stable until the last decade when a dramatic increase in logging occurred and the acreage exempt from logging was reduced. Now is the time to ensure that substantial Old Growth acreage in each State Forest is protected from logging.
A set aside program to protect Old Growth areas of the State Forests does not substantially change opportunities for logging. Instead, it recognizes three significant economic trends:
1. Other than homebuilding, the wood-using industries in Indiana are in long-term decline.
Furniture manufacturing, a major wood-using industry in our history is no longer a significant factor in our economy. Whereas, RCA, Kimball, and numerous others were major names internationally among wood-using firms, today they have moved in other directions. Now only a few successful niche producers remain. Isn’t it contrary to our conservative economic values to continue and even expand a subsidy to a declining industry?
2. Modern employers know their employees place high value on recreation and natural environments.
Today, workers and their employers see opportunities for the reflection and experience offered by natural areas as a positive in site selection. Thus, reserving more of our State Forests as undisturbed Old Growth areas enhances Indiana’s desirability as a place to live and work, an obvious economic development opportunity.
3. Appreciation of nature is a strong, accelerating force in America.
The ongoing urbanization of Indiana and the entire nation has created a demand for opportunities to experience nature. Travel and tourism to natural areas is expanding. Instead of traveling to New York and Los Angeles, Americans flock to our national parks. Instead of visiting just Paris and Rome, Americans increasingly visit Iceland and the fjords of Norway. Proper advertisement of our State Forests and other Hoosier attractions could improve Indiana’s standing as a tourist destination.