By: Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director
I am Jeff Stant, Executive Director of the Indiana Forest Alliance. I thank you for holding this Hearing Senator Glick and listening to our testimony, members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
The objective of Senate Bill 420, to set aside 10 percent of each state forest, will ensure that: 1) Future generations of Hoosiers will continue to be able to enjoy the majestic old forests that have returned to our state forests; 2) habitat needed by many declining native forest dependent species is maintained in our state; and 3) we will understand what our state forests are doing naturally and what impacts are due to silviculture versus natural forest disturbances or other impacts in state forests.
Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director
One of the basic concerns voiced about SB 420 is whether it is prudent for the legislature to be telling the Division of Forestry’s trained foresters how to manage our state forests. We submit that SB 420 is not telling our foresters how to practice silviculture or stopping logging in our state forests at all. Rather, the legislature established our state forests originally for the public benefit of all and therefore has a legitimate role to play in establishing the objectives that state forests should serve. Indiana has changed dramatically since state forests were first established in 1903. As our population has grown by more than several times and open spaces have diminished, the demand for outdoor recreational opportunities has increased greatly. Just as it wrote in that enabling legislation that occasionally some thinnings and timbering from the state forests would be appropriate to produce wood for local markets, it is equally legitimate and needed today for the legislature to prescribe that some areas of the state forests be set aside from commercial logging to provide for public purposes such as wilderness camping, long-distance hiking, horseback riding and backpacking in wild nature that only the state forests provide among public lands managed by the DNR.
The attached handout shows that other eastern states have been setting aside large acreages of their state forests from logging in natural areas, wild areas, wilderness areas, ecological reference forests and control areas for many years. These set asides have been undertaken with the authority of the executive branch and through laws passed by legislatures. For example, Pennsylvania’s legislature enacted a law in 1996 (now 17 PA Code §27) that established the systems of Natural Areas and Wild Areas in its state forests and prescribed the management objectives for these areas. Maryland enacted a law that created Wildlands within its state forests in 1972. Ohio also enacted a law that year that established the Shawnee Wilderness Area in the Shawnee State Forest.
In fact, as of 2002, Indiana had set aside 40% of the state forests, some 60,000 acres, from logging, “because of special considerations including: unique natural conditions such as dedicated Nature Preserves (1,784 acres) and Old Forest Areas (5706 acres); severe topography; other environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife needs.” (These words are from a Feb. 1, 2002 letter from DNR Director John Goss to IFA). In the 1990s the DOF established “Old Forest Areas” in Indiana’s state forests. In a written Policy provided to IFA, the DOF states:
Old growth forest is a very limited habitat type in Indiana (approximately 1,500 acres) and state forests, because of their size and ownership stability, provide an opportunity to develop this habitat. Besides increasing the diversity of habitats on state forests, old forest areas will serve as control areas to compare long term undisturbed forest with disturbed forest. Another major function of old forest areas will be to provide an undisturbed area for forest interior dwelling species and to prevent the introduction of exotic species. These areas will also be important for nondestructive ecological research areas.
This Policy laid out the management guidelines that prohibited timber stand improvement and timber production, game management, and new roads in Old Forest Areas and regeneration openings within 100 feet of Old Forest Boundaries . The Policy designated some 51 tracts, many of them adjacent, comprising 5,741 acres, as Old Forests Areas in seven state forests. This written Policy developed by the DOF under State Forester Fisher, was discarded without any written findings, policy discussion or rationale by the DOF under State Forester Siefert that the DOF can provide to IFA.
Similarly, the DOF under State Forester Datna, established three “Back Country Areas” (BCAs) in Clark State Forest in 1976 (2,000 acres), in Jackson-Washington State Forest in 1979 (2,544 acres), and in Morgan-Monroe, and Yellowwood State Forests in 1981. A July 30, 1981 press statement stated:
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director James M. Ridenour today (July 30) designated a 2,700 acre area in Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests as “Back Country,” opening up these additional lands for Hoosiers and out-of-state visitors looking for a primitive type experience in Indiana . . . Ridenour stated: “The State designation of ‘Back Country’ is similar to the Federal Wilderness Area designation, but we think our program more nearly fits the needs of Hoosiers. . . We’re extremely pleased to provide this new area for persons who enjoy the rugged, primitive areas remaining in Indiana . . . Work is underway to establish several more Back Country areas to meet the recreational needs of even more Hoosiers.”
While timber management was allowed in BCAs, the statement said it was to be “compatible with all other uses permitted,” and an article in the December, 1981 – January, 1982 Issue of Outdoor Indiana Magazine explained: “Timber harvesting in the Backcountry Area will be restricted to single-tree selection of mature, damaged or diseased trees on sites having slopes of less than 45°. Where possible, logging equipment will use existing fire trails for logging operations.” Clearly, as reinforced in an IDNR brochure about the Morgan Monroe BCA, the official intent for the management of these areas was to, “offer an experience of visiting a forested area looking much the same as it may have appeared a century and a half ago.” Unfortunately, the plethora of harvest plans and timber sales carried out in these BCAs since is visibly damaging their primitive character and marginalizing their old forest habitat value, particularly in the Jackson-Washington BCA. This despite the fact that the DOF has committed in audits to obtain a sustainable forestry certification since at least 2014 to manage 10 percent of the state forests including these three BCA’s in “an older forest condition”.
The DOF also committed to establish “Old Growth areas and associated 300 foot buffer zone” from the 2014 audit but has yet to delineate the locations of any such “Old Growth areas.” Meanwhile, the DOF is conducting timber sales in the previously- designated Old Forest Areas with three in the past year alone. Under its current Strategic Plan, the DOF’s cutting cycle will log through the entire state forest system, which includes all acreage outside of the current 4.5% designated as nature preserves or developed recreation areas, within 20 years which is actually less than 15 years from today, given that the DOF achieved its current cutting rate more than 5 years ago.
Simply put, we are asking the Legislature, to establish an overall policy that would make the DOF set aside a reasonable amount of our state forests to return to the “old growth” condition pursuant to what the DOF’s sustainable forestry certification has asked for the past 5 years in Section 6.3.a.1 which states
The forest owner or manager maintains, enhances, and/or restores under-represented successional stages in the FMU (Forest Management Unit) that would naturally occur on the types of sites found on the FMU. Where old growth of different community types that would naturally occur on the forest are under-represented in the landscape relative to natural conditions, a portion of the forest is managed to enhance and/or restore old growth characteristics.
We are asking you to establish this policy by enacting SB 420, the Old Forest Bill, to conserve these old forests that have returned to our state forests today for everyone’s continued enjoyment rather than leaving the next six generations of Hoosiers only with our memory of what these forests were like.
The preceding was testimony given by Indiana Forest Alliance Executive Director Jeff Stant to the Indiana Senate Natural Resources Committee during the hearing for Senate Bill 420 on Monday, February 13, 2017.
Please contact your state senator and ask them to support Senate Bill 420.