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

IFA Executive Director Jeff Stant in front of an American Beech in the backcountry area of Yellowwood State Forest. Photo by Samantha Buran.

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.

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.

Dr. Leslie Bishop measures a tulip poplar (the Indiana state tree), in the backcountry area of Yellowwood State Forest, where the DoF plans to log.

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.

Defending Your Right to Wilderness Recreation: 5 More Actions You Can Take

We are making ourselves heard. Hundreds of Hoosiers — along with the Indy Star editors — have implored Governor Holcomb to reconsider a proposal by the Division of Forestry (DOF) in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to log 299 acres in the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood State Forest Back Country Area (BCA).

This 2,700 acre BCA is the largest tract of old forest left in our state forests since logging was escalated by 400% over the last 12 years to restore 30% of the DOF’s budget cut by the Legislature. The oldest trees in this tract are 130 to 160 years old.

There are so many reasons why this cut should be halted. These are just a few that Governor Holcomb should heed:

In July 1981, when this Back Country Area (BCA) was established, the head of the DNR said in press release: “We’re extremely pleased to provide this new area for persons who enjoy the rugged, primitive areas remaining in Indiana.” A subsequent brochure published by the Division of Forestry (DOF) explained that logging in the BCA “will be restricted to single tree selection of mature, damaged or diseased trees on slopes of less than 45 degrees” to allow this area “to be enjoyed by the wilderness seeker as a place of solitude and repose.” This cut will make the forest a place you don’t want to be.

Unlike previous harvests which were smaller and out of public view in the northwest and southeast corners of the BCA, this plan will log 299 acres located across most of the center of the Back Country Area. It will require two popular hiking trails, the Tecumseh Trail and Possum Trot Trail, and the primary entry point into the BCA’s eastern side to be closed for six months.

The plan is proposing to log a higher volume from this area than was proposed to be logged over comparable sized areas in at least 12 of 30 other selective cut logging operations outside of the Back Country Area in Yellowwood State Forest since 2013. It will harvest between 475,000 and 712,800 board feet from the 299 acres, taking approximately 23%, nearly a fourth of the standing tree volume from more than half the acres, damaging many remaining trees, tearing up the ground on steep slopes, and leaving stumps, gravel roads and many other very visible impacts for many years.

State forests are the only state public lands where wilderness recreation – long distance hiking, back packing, primitive camping, orienteering, hunting and foraging in wild nature – is possible in Indiana. These activities are not possible in state parks, nature preserves, or fish and wildlife areas.  As such, the state forests, particularly the three Back Country Areas established in them, are crucial assets that enhance Indiana’s quality of place. The Regional Cities study emphasized that the talented workers companies are looking for most, educated younger workers — and those workers are deciding where to live based on many variables but “among the top are certainly recreation amenities,” one of which is “trails.”

Indiana’s business community is recognizing that attracting a talented work force necessary to attract new high paying employers requires a focus on “quality of place.” Indiana’s ecological crown jewel are our beautiful native hardwood forests.  BENCHMARKING U.S. REGIONAL CITIES: A STUDY AND GUIDE FOR TRANSFORMATION Interim Report  produced by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to launch Indiana’s “Regional Cities Initiative” in 2014 finds that cities and regional communities across the nation are successfully transforming and growing their economies by focusing on quality of place which includes recreational amenities such as trails and public lands that allow people to get close to nature.

On the other hand, the state’s timber industry would hardly notice if logging in the three BCAs in our state forests was forgone to conserve their wilderness for recreation. At 158,000 acres, Indiana’s entire state forest system comprises just 3.2% of the state’s 4,900,000 total forested acres.

In turn the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood Back Country Area’s 2,700 acres comprise just 1.7% of the state forests’ acreage. The 3 BCAs collectively comprise 7,200 acres, just 4.6% of the state forests’ total acreage. Today’s harvests from all state forests of 14 million board feet make up just 5-6% of the total board feet harvested in Indiana annually according to the Purdue University’s Annual Timber Price/Stumpage Reports.

IFA’s biologist surveys over the past 4 years have found that 21 endangered species including the Indiana bat, timber rattlesnake, smokey shrew, and worm-eating warbler live in this forest.

Lastly, these forests are our heritage. As IFA member, seventh-generation Hoosier Angela Herrmann, put it: “I’ve had the good fortune of traveling around the world. Of all of the places I’ve ever visited, no place has ever felt more like home to me than southern Indiana, specifically the area known as Yellowwood Forest with its aromas of spring flowers, summer campfires, and autumn decay. The silence I experience on a winter’s day within Yellowwood forest is unlike any silence I have ever experienced anywhere else. Destroying these woodlands is akin to removing any connection my family and I might ever have to our ancestral history. These are the forests my ancestors would have traveled through and hunted in as they migrated north from Kentucky. A forest like this cannot be replaced in my lifetime.”

If you’ve called the Governor and made official comments to the Division of Forestry, what more can you do?

2) E-mail DNR Director Cameron Clark.
3) Ask your state rep and senator to ask the Governor to stop the timber sale.
4) Ask your friends and neighbors to do items 1-3.
5) Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.
It’s time that the Governor put the Division Forestry in check. A tidal wave of sustained public pressure is the way that this timber sale will be stopped. THANK YOU for speaking out!


Citizens to Gov. Holcomb: “Value of our state forests cannot be measured in board feet & dollars”

So far, you’ve generated hundreds of contacts to Gov. Holcomb’s office to ask him to halt the planned logging in Yellowwood State Forest and the backcountry area. Here, we share powerful excerpts of messages from outraged citizens to Gov. Holcomb’s office:


“Dear Gov. Holcomb: I am a Republican, a lover of nature and our great state forests, and a member of the Indiana Forest Alliance.  I am originally from Chicago, but have lived and worked in Bloomington as a physician the better part of my life, and I want to preserve the land and its beauty for all time for our children. For the last 12 years or so, the old, natural forests, esp. here in Southern Indiana, have been extensively and aggressively logged as if they were just some exploitable commodity.  But they are really life itself for our fellow travelers here on earth, the animals in the wild, and for us who love it for recreation.  And the foresters sell off our timber at rock bottom prices to the logging industry, so Indiana citizens don’t benefit and animals lose their homes….

You are in charge of the Dept. of Forestry, which made a commitment to manage all of the forest within this Back Country Area as ‘older forest.’   Please oversee and greatly reduce these logging plans, and let the forest in these tracts return to the old growth condition. Please institute a more responsible management plan for our state forests that will set aside more areas for ecological conservation and wilderness recreation for us and our children!

–Annette A.



“Dear Gov. Holcomb: I am writing to ask you to help continue to battle to protect Indiana forests from extensive logging. I grew up in Henry County, where my family owned, and protected, a tiny piece of forest. I spent most of my childhood outdoors, playing and exploring nature. As an older adult living in a Johnson County suburb, I have very little access to the forest, and no ability to ‘buy’ a piece. Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Yellowwood have been “my” forests for years. I have hiked, camped, backpacked, participated in trail runs, and volunteered there. I have through-hiked Tecumseh Trail three times and combine through-hiked Tecumseh and Knobstone Trails once. I now have cancer and my options are limited. The trails at both forests are being systematically shut down, rerouted, damaged, and if reopened, have been turned into eyesores.

… What was once my sanctuary from stress has become a mud bog of lost hope and despair. While the State Parks and Nature Preserves do not have logging, they are very busy places and fairly expensive to those on a limited income. Back packing is almost exclusively a State Forest activity, and even that is limited to Tecumseh Trail until you get down to HNF. The Low Gap Area of Morgan Monroe State Forest is one of the most fascinating places in mid-central Indiana. I can still remember the first time we took our children there for a three mile hike, thinking we had just entered a prehistoric land. That absolutely must be protected!”

–Sherrie O.


Dear Gov. Holcomb: I am deeply dismayed that the Division of Forestry (DOF) has posted plans to log 299 acres in Yellowwood State Forest that fall within the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood Back Country Area. Specifically, these are Tracts 2, 3 and 4 in Compartment 13. For the past four years I’ve participated in the Indiana Forest Alliance’s “Ecoblitz,” primarily as a member of the vascular plant team, helping to document the rich diversity of flora and fauna in this Back Country Area, including rare, threatened, and endangered (RTE) species….

I have commented in the past on numerous DOF Draft Resource Management Guides (DRMGs) and frequently noted that no thorough review or species inventory of flora/fauna had been conducted to determine the presence of rare, threatened, and/or endangered species in the affected tracts. Unfortunately, this is also the case with Yellowwood Compartment 13, Tracts 2, 3 and 4. Each DRMG states that a “Natural Heritage Database Review” was completed for the tract (in 2013 for Tract 3 and in 2016 for Tracts 2 and 4). What this indicates is that DOF staff searched the database of identified populations of RTEs, which is maintained by the Division of Nature Preserves and rarely updated…

I was at the Indiana Forest Alliance rally at the Statehouse on February 20, when 650 or more citizens gathered to express their strong support for greater forest protections, including the setting aside of 10% of our state forests from commercial logging. This diverse assembly included school groups, environmentalists, scientists, business experts, faith leaders, etc., and both Republican and Democratic legislators were featured speakers. All of us who attended know the importance of our state forests, which cannot be measured in board feet and dollars. Now more than ever, with a changing climate and habitat rapidly disappearing for many at-risk plant and animal species, we need to leave some areas of forest undisturbed, so that complex ecosystems can continue to thrive and support our native flora and fauna.”

–Karen S.


“Dear Gov. Holcomb: When the Lake Lemon Conservation District is now looking at spending more than $4 Million on dredging, why are DNR officials continuing to aggressively log in that watershed? The models estimating the $4M does not even take in consideration the massive increase in logging this past decade. This is insane: DNR sells logging contracts to pay for budget cuts and then forces private citizens to have their Lake dredged. What about Lake Monroe, the drinking water source for 120k+ people and recreation venue for one million annually? When the DNR logs in that watershed, how much sediment flows into the Lake? How many small creeks are silted and creatures destroyed?…

I am not anti-logging. But it needs to be done in a responsible way that issues like invasive plant species, erosion control ect are honestly addressed and we conserve what we promised to protect. DNR’s zeal to log for short term gain ignores the long term impact of these actions.”

–Dave S.


Join the chorus and contact Gov. Holcomb by phone  at 317-232-4567 (Monday – Friday), his online e-mail submission form, or via US mail. Contact info here: http://www.in.gov/gov/2752.htm.

Thank you for raising your voice in defense of Indiana’s forests.

Tell the Governor Now: It’s Wrong to Log this Brown County Forest, and Here’s Why

by Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director

This past week, the Indiana Division of Forestry (within the Indiana Department of Natural Resources) posted plans to log 299 acres in Yellowwood State Forest inside the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood Back Country Area in Brown County.  The plans will log the most remote and pristine hollow which contains tulip poplars, sugar maples and northern red oaks between 150 and 200 years old.  IFA conducts part of our Ecoblitz flora/fauna survey in this area, and we know it to be exceptionally diverse in terms of animal and plant life.

The Division of Forestry’s shocking plans totally ignore the fact of this forest’s high ecological quality. And once again, their logging would re-route one of Indiana’s longest and best hiking trails, the Tecumseh Trail.


The 299 acres are in northwestern Brown County and comprised of three adjoining tracts on both sides of Possum Trot Trail.   The tracts extend northward from the Possum Trot Road Trail Head across the Tecumseh Trail between Shipman Ridge and Bear Lake. DOF plans to sell the timber this year.


Our Governor is about to find out how many people are tired of our state forests being treated like timber farms. PLEASE make a call or write a letter to Governor Holcomb (317-232-4567). Both of these are more effective than an e-mail, but all communications are of value. Key points to stress:

1) THE STATE HAS NOT CHECKED FOR RARE/THREATENED/ENDANGERED SPECIES. An inventory of the flora and fauna on these tracts should have been done before any decision to log them was made.  No such inventory has been done. The DOF staff have only examined the state’s Natural Heritage Database in 2013. The IDNR’s Division of Nature Preserves maintains this database: they explain that it is only a collection of documented identifications and should never be relied upon to decide whether rare, threatened or endangered (“RTE”) species or their habitats exist at any particular location. The existence of such species can only be determined by an inspection of the site by qualified individuals, a step which the DOF must take here!

2) IFA HAS DOCUMENTED BATS HERE. IFA’s Ecoblitz has documented many RTE species in two of these tracts and submitted this information to DOF. Just this year, mammalogists netted the federal and state endangered Indiana Bat in the hollow in Tract 3 and found a maternity roost for this bat in a ravine in Tract 2. In 2016 they also found a maternity roost for the Indiana Bat within a hundred yards of Tract 3 and netted an Indiana Bat and many Eastern Red Bats which are a Species of Special Concern (officially considered “rare”) on Possum Trot Trail separating these three tracts. Logging should be kept out of this entire area given the rapid decline of the Indiana Bat toward extinction and the documented evidence of its dependence upon this forest to raise its young.

In addition to bats, in 2015 mammalogists found 5 smokey shrews and 1 pygmy shrew, Species of Special Concern that require undisturbed old forest, living along large downed logs in Tract 3. Herpetologists found a mother and young timber rattler snakes, state endangered animals in a den in Tract 3 in 2014. Ornithologists have found worm-eating warblers, a Species of Special Concern feeding young in Tract 3 for the last three years. They have found Louisiana Waterthrushes, Acadian Flycatchers, ovenbirds, hooded warblers and many other uncommon deep forest birds in this tract as well. Within Indiana, these animals are largely limited to the deep forests that exist only in this part of the state.

3) THIS NATURAL AREA IS OF THE HIGHEST QUALITY.  In 2015 a team of botanists from Indiana University and Ball State assessed the floristic quality of the plant community in the Ecoblitz area including the hollow in Tract 3 and found it to be one of the highest and most pristine ever measured for a hardwood forest in Indiana, stating, this forest “has very high “remnant natural value,” perhaps the highest in the State.”

4) THIS CUT WILL DESTROY THE WILDERNESS CHARACTER OF THIS FOREST. The IDNR promised to maintain this character when it designated the forest as a “Back Country Area” in 1980. DOF is proposing to log anywhere from 475,200 to 712,800 board feet of timber out of these tracts in what can only be described as an aggressive selection cut. From the vagueness of the logging plan, it’s impossible to tell exactly how trees will be cut throughout these tracts. Also, an unspecified number of areas infected with ash borer or that contain “wind blown” trees will be “salvaged” and thus potentially cleared entirely.

5) THE DOF HAS REPEATEDLY COMMITTED TO MAINTAIN THIS FOREST AS “OLD GROWTH” AND “OLDER FOREST.” It has done so in order to obtain its national Forest Stewardship Council certification for practicing sustainable forestry.  In response to the FSC auditors’ demand in their January 31, 2017 report that a portion of Indiana’s state forests be managed “to enhance and/or restore old growth characteristics,” the DOF committed to maintain all Back Country Areas — specifically mentioning the Yellowwood/Morgan-Monroe Back Country Area — in this “older forest” condition. There is no mention in these logging plans of any such commitment.

6) THIS FOREST CONTAINS SOILS PRONE TO EROSION. The rugged nature of the forest will exacerbate damage from the logging. DOF has acknowledged that one of the primary soils in this forest, the “Berks-Trevlac-Wellston complex” on 20-70% slopes, will be prone to erosion hazards from logging and logging equipment. One cannot log these slopes without adding to the siltation of Lake Lemon which has been publicly acknowledged as a major problem that will be expensive to fix.

Here are the DOF’s logging plans for the three tracts in the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood State Forest Back Country Area:

ASK GOVERNOR HOLCOMB to hold the DOF to its commitment made to obtain a sustainable forestry certification to manage all of the forest within this Back Country Area as “older forest,” stop these logging plans from moving forward and let the forest in these three tracts return to the old growth condition.

Request that he institute a much more balanced and responsible management of our state forests that will conserve all of the BCA’s and other state forest areas for ecological conservation and wilderness recreation, for our children’s children!

Contact Gov. Holcomb at 317-232-4567 or via mail: 
Office of the Governor
Indianapolis IN 46204-2797

You can also e-mail him via his website by clicking here.


If your time allows, please also submit a comment on these logging plans here: www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/8122.htm. It is best to submit all your comments from that page: some of the links listed you see at the bottom of each of the three plan PDFs do not work.

You will need to indicate the State Forest Name, Compartment Number and Tract Number in the “Subject or file reference” line to ensure that your comment receives consideration. Comments must be received by Sunday, Sept. 3 and will then be considered and posted at http://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/3634.htm.

If you are interested in getting more involved with local groups that are working to save this forest, please contact Sandy Messner, IFA’s Outreach Director, at sandra@indianaforestalliance.org.

THANK YOU for speaking out against this historically bad logging plan. Together we can prevent this:

Eleven Reasons to Leave Haverstick Woods Standing

By Clarke Kahlo

Haverstick Woods is the last forest stand in the busiest retail corridor in the city of Indianapolis. But a developer is lobbying the Metropolitan Development Commission to re-zone it for yet another office building with retail at street level. Here are 11 reasons why the Commission should reject this proposal – as most residents already have. They’ve even formed a group called Northside Neighbors Against Alexander at the Crossing to speak out against the destruction of this forest.

Join them, IFA Executive Director Jeff Stant, and our members at a Commission hearing Wednesday, October 4, the Indianapolis City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St., Room 230, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. It’s our last chance to send a big message to city planners: more development is not the answer for better quality of life: more forest are. Here’s why we’re in favor of letting this forest stand:


1) NO NEED FOR MORE RETAIL: The Haverstick Woods is a prime potential urban forest, in an area sorely in need of parks and natural areas, which does not need more commercial retail and office space. Indy ranked last among 100 cities for park investment and access.

2) GREAT NEED FOR NEW PARK: The Indianapolis Parks Department has indicated a strong interest in adding this site to its park system if a no-public-cost acquisition strategy can be implemented. (However, as per long-standing unofficial city policy, Indy Parks will not take a public position lest it conflict with the recommendations of other City agencies such as DMD and DPW, and any opinions of the Mayor’s office.

3) TRAFFIC GRIDLOCK WILL ONLY WORSEN: Traffic congestion in the Keystone at the Crossing and Nora area has become an all-too-frequent vexing condition for motorists. A park, instead of a retail commercial building with a 360-space parking lot would ameliorate, or at least not substantially exacerbate, traffic congestion. The City has signed off on study-after-study showing no impact from proposed developments—yet the resultant real-world experience by motorists at the location–as well as all along the entirety of 86/82nd–is gridlock (Level of Service ratings F and D) many times throughout the day.

4) THE NORA COUNCIL IS AGAINST THIS DEVELOPMENT: After much consideration and many meetings, The Nora-Northside Community Council voted resoundingly (9 to 2) to take a position of Objection to the petition. The Driftwood Hills Neighborhood Association has also voted to oppose.

5) LOWER QUALITY OF LIFE FOR RESIDENTS: A commercial use petition would constitute an attack upon the use and value of nearby neighborhoods because the tract is so situated that it would, if developed as proposed, exert negative community impact—traffic congestion and hazards, emergency vehicle impairment, light pollution, the urban heat island effect, loss of buffer for noise pollution and particulate (air) pollution, and short-cut traffic—from the primary arterials and onto narrow Haverstick Rd. and East 91st Street (which are neither planned nor constructed as arterial streets).

6) THE WOODS PROVIDE SERVICES SUCH AS RUNOFF ABSORPTION: The development will cause excessive stormwater discharges, and increased flooding in already flood-prone areas such as the River Park neighborhood to the south. Currently, the forest provides the excellent service of stormwater runoff absorption. The developer’s proposed storage tanks will likely not be large enough to capture half the runoff that the forest now does. Healthy, heavily treed riparian environments make society’s job of cleaning water much easier and cheaper once it hits the water treatment plant. If the woods are developed, much more dirty water will shoot straight into the White River.

7) IT WOULD CREATE A ZONING PRECEDENT: Approval of this commercial use would also create a zoning precedent which, thereafter, would encourage strip development and commercial sprawl to the west—unless the regulatory authorities (zoning boards and commissions) are able to “draw (and hold) the line.” Unfortunately, as we increasingly learn, we cannot rely on history, applicable precedent, agency resolve, or accumulated wisdom in public policy-making. The public must vigorously defend against this dangerous proposal.

8) LEAVING THE WOODS WOULD HELP FULFILL THE MAYOR’S NEW SUSTAINABILITY AND RESILIENCE ACTION PLAN: A standing forest. There’s no cheaper way to mitigate climate change, since trees are the perfect instrument for absorbing carbon.

9) LEAVING THE WOODS SHOWS THAT INDIANAPOLIS “VALUES COMMUNITIES & NEIGHBORHOODS”: Last year, Indy Rezone, a major update of the City’s zoning ordinances, was introduced. It contained six Livability principles, as guidelines for future development decisions, including this one: “Value Communities & Neighborhoods: Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban, or suburban.” What better way to enact this principle than retaining Haverstick Woods as a park?

10) IT’S A “CRITICAL AREA”: The tract has been designated as a “Critical Area” by the Marion County Comprehensive Plan. Why ? The north side of 86th Street is primarily residential in nature. The residential areas are under development pressure from commercial expansion. There is no significant barrier west of Keystone Avenue to stop the process of commercial encroachment on 86th Street. If commercial development were allowed on any of these parcels, several more parcels on 86th Street could be in line to convert to commercial development as well. It is critical to protect the existing residential nature of this portion of 86th Street from any commercial development. Source: Marion County Insight

11) IT’S AN ANIMAL HABITAT & WITH TALL TREES THAT PEOPLE LOVE AS IS: The site is a remnant natural heritage site featuring steep slope terrain which supports hundreds of older-growth trees and harbors much wildlife habitat in a highly paved over area. Most of the site has never been developed due to steep slopes and heavy woods. It’s a wonderful place for kids to play in nature and for people to walk their dogs. How do you place a dollar value on that?

Trees, Joy & Grief: A Meditation on Logging

While there are plenty of ecological, factual, scientific reasons not to log our state forests at current levels, there are also indisputable reasons in the realm of what’s good for the soul. This blog post by IFA member Julie James describes the psychological impact of seeing a public forest dismantled, and knowing it won’t be the same in our lifetimes. 

Words by Julie James / Photos by Martha Fox

For the third year in a row, I have been experiencing grief instead of joy when I take a hike in the state forest a half mile down my dead-end road in eastern Monroe County, in Yellowwood State Forest.

One of the main reasons I moved here eight years ago was because I love forests and living next to a protected state forest seemed ideal. Here, I thought, wildlife would roam safely and trees could grow tall and old. I wanted to be near this beautiful natural habitat.

Dave Simcox and I walking along the logging road — muddy, ugly, and difficult to walk on due to the large gravel they put down. Not a desired hiking experience.

I still clung to my childhood belief that the government or someone out there protected the woods and its inhabitants.  I didn’t have much reason to think otherwise. For five years, I would hike in Yellowwood with my family and dogs about 3-5 times weekly. It was blissful. We hiked in the day, and in the night with our headlamps on. We hiked in all seasons and watched the nuances of transitions from one season to the next.  I listened to whippoorwills and coyotes and once or twice I changed my trajectory to give a rattlesnake more space.

I count among my most magical memories: going cross country skiing down the trails, during the delightful polar vortex winters. I consider my dogs among the luckiest around to have run in the woods, smelling a thousand scents and roaming around with their best friends.

“No hiking” isn’t for a few days…it’s for months.

A tree marked with a ribbon is a trigger of grief.

Three years ago, on a hike, I saw trees with ribbons on them. I slowly learned that they were marked to be cut down and harvested. I was devastated to learn that the state saw the forest as a crop, like corn. I felt helpless and frankly, confused. These magnificent trees are not a crop. They are home to a myriad of plant and animal life. Trees give us shade. They block noise pollution. Trees clean our soil and provide life-giving oxygen. They provide us inspiration, beauty and the rejuvenation of our spirits.

No matter how desperately I wanted it to be different, the logging trucks and machines moved down our road and began clearcutting the trees. I cannot express the level of grief I have felt as tree after tree — giant oaks, poplars, maple and hickory — that any outdoors person in the area loves and appreciates, was sawed down, topped, and taken away on logging trucks.

This is the scene when I set off to hike: the logging staging area. The buckets are from oil that the machines need. Trees are taken down just to make a place for the logging machinery.

My hikes past the remains of these giant sentinels of the forest left me wondering how to cope with my feelings of loss. Never again in my lifetime would I see the splendor of the forest the way I had seen it before. I won’t live 100 more years to see the forests in Indiana be the way they were just 3 years ago. Even my kids will be challenged to see the Hoosier forests return to the forests we enjoyed so much as they have been growing up.

I’m also disheartened that I did not know about logging in state forests before I witnessed it up close and personal. I am upset that I didn’t even know to learn more about how unprotected our state forests are and that logging under the last few governors has increased 400%. And finally, as I often have discovered with environmental issues, I’m deeply disturbed that money is seen as more important than our precious environment and natural resources, to the point of being unsustainable.

I told my closest friends about what was happening and we became forest activists in our own ways. I became inspired to find out how I could prevent this devastation from happening again. Now, three years later, watching parcel after parcel in these beloved woods get sold and cut, I have become more actively involved in protecting Indiana’s forests. I have learned that all state forests in Indiana are being logged.

It is unbelievable what is happening and how it is being done. I am impressed with organizations like Indiana Forest Alliance and others that are taking actions to spread information and facts as well as taking action. I strongly urge readers to find a way, even a small way, to take action to protect our state forests, and our natural world as a whole.

A tree with so much carbon it could have sequestered and so many microorganisms that are now gone with the tree. The torn-up soil and the light let in will be a boon for invasive plants.


Before I could hike along and see a full, beautiful forest. Now it’s this. The stumps and the tops of trees. Branches and limbs scattered about.


These remaining logs will be here for another decade or so as they rot: releasing carbon, not sequestering it.

Crown Hill North Woods: Saved Today, Preserved Tomorrow?

by Anne Laker, IFA Director of Communications 

It’s the outcome we have all been working for since last August. We are thrilled. On May 5, we learned that the amazing old growth forest at Crown Hill North Woods will not be razed for the VA’s columbaria project. The new site is just to the east — the obvious choice for the memorial all along. This choice honors veterans by preserving our natural heritage, and it allows the project to remain in Crown Hill, a national cemetery. We are grateful to [click here to thank them directly]:

  • Secretary David Shulkin and Ronald Walters of the Veterans Administration in Washington DC for hearing the concerns of Indianapolis citizens
  • Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett for speaking out in favor of the value of the forest to our community
  • Sen. Joe Donnelly and Representative André Carson for their leadership negotiating a solution behind the scenes
  • The Dr. Laura Hare Charitable Trust for offering the financial resources to enable a swap that would permanent protect the woods. 
  • The individual veterans who worked on this campaign throughout — educating their fellow veterans and making it known that a forest should not be destroyed in their name.

Hundreds marched to save the forest, 9/25/16. Photo by Daniel Axler.

IFA Director Jeff Stant in front of one the “saved” bur oaks. Photo by Anne Laker.









This positive outcome was also made possible by the hundreds of citizens — veterans, Crown Hill neighborhood residents, school kids — who picked up the phone, marched, picketed, wrote letters, and made signs — all speaking passionately about the good that forests do for our health, our air, and our quality of life. And how a forest like this can best honor our servicemen and women when left standing. Our message was heard!

We also thank the attorneys, biologists, and members of the media who sounded off about the Crown Hill North Woods.

The short-term preservation of Crown Hill Woods is also due to the collaboration of organizations including Mary Ellen Gadski of the Amos Butler Audubon Society, Lori Adelson of the Heartlands Sierra Club, Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council, John Gibson of Earth Charter Indiana, Clarke Kahlo and Angela Hermann of the the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, Carleen Carter of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, and Zach Adamson of the Indianapolis City-County Council. 

The Crown Hill Woods Steering Committee is also to be thanked (they know who they are). This group met twice monthly, sacrificing a lot of personal time on behalf of the woods and plotting the course every step of the way, even when it seemed all was lost.

Now that the Woods are once again owned by Crown Hill Cemetery, the Indiana Forest Alliance and all our allies intend to work with Crown Hill and the Hare Trust to enable this forest to be permanently preserved. As we celebrate the announcement that it is out of immediate danger, the forest is not yet assuredly preserved for the future.

We will not rest until the forest is preserved for posterity. And IFA continues our work preserving public forests across this state. Join us!

New location of the veterans memorial: east of the North Woods. Photo by Anne Laker.

“Moving the Product Quicker?”: In Defense of Owen-Putnam State Forest

In March, the Spencer Evening World (the newspaper of record in Owen County) published a front page article in which the Owen-Putnam State Forest property manager was quoted extensively. “In our society, there is such a demand for the product that we have, we to move the product quicker,” he said. This Division of Forestry employee goes on to discuss at length how state forests operate essentially as timber farms.  The article is not available online, but can be read here: (page 1, page 2). Two frequent users of the forest (both IFA members) wrote letters to the editor in response, the first of them published April 29, the other awaiting publication.

Dear Editor:

I was quite unhappy to read the one-sided article on logging practices written in the Spencer Evening World on March 28, 2017.

It was blatantly pro-logging.  Although I do love our forest, I do not consider myself a “treehugger.”  I am fully aware that the responsible logging of trees is necessary, but many  of us believe that there are other ways to collect revenue so as to reduce the amount of timber that needs to be cut.  We have offered solutions, which to this point, have gone unanswered or ignored.

I am writing from the perspective of a trail rider, a hiker, and a mushroom hunter, but because of timbering, there are deep ruts along the trails which fill with water each time it rains.

Logging has left deep ruts in Owen Putnam State Forest

Large rocks are put on trails to transfer the logging equipment and are extremely dangerous not only to horse’s hooves, but also to runners.  Forest Resource specialist, Rob Duncan, is quoted as saying, “Once the harvest is done, they (logging companies) have to go back in and fill in any ruts, seed and straw areas that are prone to more erosion.” To my knowledge, this has not been done.  Also, when large areas are timbered, the canopy disappears.  This encourages the growth of invasive species such as multiflora roses and brambles, which in turn discourage hiking, mushrooming and riding.

I understand the need to raise money to pay for maintenance of our forests and parks.  What I am asking for is that the DNR compromise and work with alternative money-raising suggestions in order to make our land use the best it can be.

Joan Staubach
Poland, Indiana

Dear Editor,

I was stumped as to who really wrote “Timbering in Owen Putnam Underway” on 28 March, reporter Michael Stanley or Property Manager Bill Gallogly. It was an excellent account of the activities and oversight now required by the Division of Forestry.

Lacking however was any query about balance in the management of our only public lands which permit Hoosiers to roam and enjoy the bit of wild nature that is our heritage.

95% of Indiana’s forests are private property. Far less than 5% is available for hiking, camping off trail, mountain biking, hunting and more for 6.6 million Hoosiers.

Since the abolition of that infinitesimal mil tax in the Daniels Administration (so that the governor could crow about “cutting taxes”), the Division of Forestry began cutting personnel, programs, and 600% more trees per year. All to stay in business. The vast majority of personnel left in the DOF are foresters. This forest industry expertise is excellent in a private company, but as for stewardship of public lands, it would appear to be skewed to timber management. Property manager Gallogly’s statement “There is such a demand for the product we have to move the product quicker” is a statement I find remarkable for a very decent public employee like Bill Gallogly to be forced to make.

Is it really so necessary to sell timber to the Chinese that we can’t enjoy our own forests that the state legislature set aside for us 100 years ago?

Private landowners should be able to meet that demand and if DOF charged the fair market price for our state forest timber instead of losing money for us, perhaps we would not have to log so heavily. Under-utilized or unenforced income sources like camping fees, small annual or day hiker fees, and horse bridle and mountain bike tags exist. Or, if you don’t like paying fees, we should reinstate the miniscule mill tax which robustly supported a once-excellent Division of Forestry.

The scenery, the enjoyment, the family experience of nature to be found, that the DNR state forest brochures advertise, ought to be true.

The truth of usage would be as appealing as the DNR brochures that advertise our natural beauty, campgrounds and fishing.

Mary Bookwalter
Freedom, Indiana

The Ecoblitz: A Lichenologist’s View

By James Lendemer, Ph.D.

Lichens are a diverse and important fungi that occur on soil, rocks and trees worldwide, including throughout Indiana. Although they can survive in harsh conditions in the driest deserts and highest mountains, lichens are also often very sensitive to changes in the environment. Habitat loss, deforestation, and pollution have already greatly impacted many lichen species in the United States, such that it is now more important than ever to understand where individual species occur and how rare they are.

Dr. James Lendemer (right) in Yellowwood State Forest with IFA staff scientists Leslie Bishop & Rae Schnapp. (photo by Samantha Buran)

This spring I came from New York Botanical Garden to Indiana to study the lichens of the Indiana Forest Alliance’s Ecoblitz area in Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests. I spent a week searching the ridges and ravines surrounding the East Fork of Honey Creek, and located more than one hundred species, including several that have never previously been found in the state. While some species were common in the Ecoblitz area, others were rare and found on only a single individual tree or at a single location. My inventory is one of the first to be carried out in the state during the last twenty years, and highlights another dimension of the unique native species found in Indiana’s forests.


A rare lichen species, collema subflaccidum, found in the BCA of Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood State Forest. (photo by James Lendemer, Ph.D.)


A Check By a Branch of Government on Agency Misfeasance, Finally

By: Clarke Kahlo, Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors

On March 10th, two of Indiana’s Congressional representatives wrote a letter to the VA which was highly critical of the VA’s failure to sufficiently consult the community as it willfully pushes its unnecessarily destructive cemetery plan toward construction. Congressman Carson and Senator Donnelly lambasted the agency, expressing their “profound disappointment” for its poor outreach which has cause great tumult in the community.

Clarke Kahlo at the March 16 Rally for the Crown Hill North Forest

It’s refreshing to see legislators who are willing to apply critical oversight on a bureaucracy run amok.  Too often, lawmakers merely defer to the executive branch, and the administrative agencies which it controls, even when the excesses or failures are egregious or even malfeasant.

And too often, the courts defer to agencies under the legal doctrine of presumption of administrative expertise. In their wide discretion, judges conveniently say that they are loathe to substitute their judgement for that of the officials who are presumed to be expert. Or unless an elusive “clear error” is found.

The Carson/Donnelly rebuke of the VA stands in stark contrast to the willful and irrational position of City-County Councilor Joe Simpson who has adamantly declined to support the community— even though the nearby neighborhoods have voiced their strong opposition to the VA plan.  When pressed for an explanation, Simpson defiantly declares only that “I’m a Veteran!” as if that is a pertinent or satisfactory explanation for his repudiation of the positions of several neighborhood organizations in his district and his support of a remarkably and unnecessarily destructive VA plan.

Many local veterans are strongly opposed to the VA’s plan and are actively engaged in the battle against it.  Some have recently participated in civil disobedience.  Simpson’s opposition based only upon his military service background reminds of Samuel Johnson’s 1775 observation that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.  (Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism). Perhaps, in the future, the true reason for Councilor Simpson’s blind obeisance to the VA and Crown Hill will become known.

The Carson/Donnelly letter only mentions failure of outreach and does not specifically cite the VA’s failure to consider site alternatives— although this glaring failure is likely implied in their exhortations about community involvement.

The Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors appreciates the efforts of Congressman Carson and Senator Donnelly to right the VA’s wrongs.

Clarke Kahlo is an Indianapolis resident and green space advocate. Kahlo was an integral part of the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, who formally formed in 2005 to protest the destruction of the Crown Hill North Woods when a developer attempted to fell them for retail an condominium space. The Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors was eventually successful in 2007 when the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission prevailed and denied the proper zoning allotments for said development. 

The head of the National Cemetery Administration has stated that he promises to give alternative sites for their veterans columbaria “a good hard look” in a statement dated March 22, 2017. Please contact the VA and urge them to do the right thing by relocating their project to a site that more appropriately honors our veterans. A site that does not destroy the very natural heritage which they, our veterans, have served to protect. 

David Shulkin, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs

(202) 461-4800


The Crown Hill North Woods: An Ecological Jewel

By: Rebecca Dolan, Ph.D. 


Dr. Dolan during a tree/ floral inventory of the Crown Hill North Woods on Oct. 30, 2016.

A wonderful remnant of Eastern Deciduous forest has been secured on the grounds of Crown Hill Cemetery for 150 years. The woods on the northern edge of the cemetery, between Michigan Road and Clarendon, are a sanctuary for plants and wildlife that sustained our pioneers and were characteristic of early Marion County. Just as the inscriptions on the grave markers are a reminder of, and tribute to, our forbearers, the woods are a legacy of the past, linking generations. Woods of this size and quality are not found in many places in central Indiana.

These woods are special. Most of our parks with natural areas in Marion County are along rivers, creeks and streams, places like Holliday Park, Marott Park, and parts of Eagle Creek Park. The relatively steep topography of these sites prevented their being cleared for agriculture. The Crown Hill woods are close to White River, but far enough away to be out of the floodplain and flat. This terrain hosts flatwoods with shallow depressions called spring ponds that hold several inches of water in the spring. Because of the spring ponding, flatwoods were the last areas to be developed or farmed by settlers. Now these special places are some of the last truly natural areas in the central Indiana. The presence of spring ponds adds habitat diversity to the Crown Hill woods. At least 47 species of trees grow here. Impressively, the interior of the woods is largely free of invasive, non-native pest plants that are a scourge in many urban natural areas.

Forests like the woods at Crown Hill can be divided into three layers based on height above the ground. The upper layer, closest to the heavens, is the canopy. Just like with a canopy bed, this is the layer over your head. Very large and old trees hold their leaves up to the sun. Among the largest and oldest are burr oaks. Some in the woods measure over fifteen feet around and are likely several hundred years old. Although the woods at Crown Hill are isolated from other woods with burr oaks, the trees are able to communicate across the landscape via their pollen. The pollen of oaks travels on the wind and is able to cross fairly large spaces. Trees at Crown Hill preserve the gene pool of early Indiana and so connect the past with the present. Ashes, tulip poplars, sycamores, hickories, cottonwoods, silver and sugar maple also thrive at Crown Hill. At least two dozen trees are over three feet in diameter.

The canopy is home to tree nesting fox and gray squirrels. Raccoons and opossums hang out in its branches. Pileated woodpeckers, large birds up to two feet in length with calls sounding like Woody- -The-Woodpecker, fly through the tree-tops like parrots through the rainforest. Both woodpeckers and squirrels nest in hollow parts of mature, often dead, old trees in forest habitat. Squirrels also build leaf nests to protect their young and to keep warm in winter. Squirrels usually have two litters of three or four young, one in late winter or early spring and the other in early summer. Young squirrels nurse for around five weeks before venturing to find their own food. They continue to remain close to mom for five or so months, before breaking from the family group. Pileated woodpeckers need large tracks of mixed hardwoods.   Parents work together to excavate new nest holes each year, at an average height of 45 feet off the ground. They lay one brood of three or four eggs. No special nest material is brought in. Eggs are laid in the hole and incubated by both sexes.

The Crown Hill North Woods

The middle layer of the forest is a shrub-layer. In Indiana, we don’t have a large diversity of shrubs in our flatwood forests, but the plants that are here are important food for wildlife. Pawpaw and spicebush are plentiful. Both are host plants for large elaborate butterflies, zebra and spicebush swallowtails, that lay their eggs only on these bushes. Spicebush berries are high in fats and nutrients needed for migration of neotropical birds stopping over to rest on their semi-annual flights from North America to Central and South America. Redstarts, ovenbirds, wood thrushes, red-eyed vireos, and scarlet tanagers are just a few of the globally rare birds that stop in the Crown Hill Woods. The woods are large enough to support a population of deer that can often be seen feeding at dawn and dusk in the field outside the woods at 42nd and Clarendon. Only a small population can be sustained by the resources available here.

The layer of forest closest to the earth is the herb-layer: non-woody plants. The woods are alive in the spring with wildflowers and their pollinators. These spring ephemerals leaf out and bloom at the same time as our garden crocuses and tulips. They grow from underground bulbs that store energy between growing seasons. Flowering is done quickly, before the trees leaf out and while sunlight can still get to the forest floor. Familiar plants like trout lilies, May apple and Jack-in-the-pulpit abound. Almost forty species have been seen. One of the most striking in terms of numbers is spring-beauty, a diminutive early bloomer with light pink flowers lined with dark pink veins. The plant is also known as fairy spuds. Fore-lore has it the underground storage organs of these plants are edible and were eaten by Native Americans. The tubers are only the size of a little fingernail, hence the name. It would take quite a few plants to make a meal.

Many of these woodland spring wildflowers are pollinated by specialist insects that only visit a single species of plant. Decline, or worse yet, loss of these plants, results in
a cascading loss of biodiversity. Many have also co-evolved with animal dispersers that carry seeds away and help the species spread. Tiny fat bodies, a high quality food source for ants, are often produced by spring wildflowers, attached to seeds. The ants are attracted to the fat bodies like ant candy and carry the attached seeds back to their nests. Once there, the ants eat the fat bodies, but not the seeds. The seed are left in a nice, fertile place to germinate and grow.

The forest floor is also home to land-dwelling animals. When winter snowmelt and spring rains are caught in the clay soils of ephemeral ponds, salamanders and other amphibians lay their eggs. Salamanders lay clutches of 300-800 eggs attached to the undersides of leaves and sticks by gelatinous film. If the pond dries up too soon, the eggs will die. If all goes well, many hundred tadpoles from a clutch will complete metamorphosis to develop into land-dwelling adults.

Beneath the forest floor, roots of trees absorb rain and help keep soils porous. Forest blocks help retain rainwater on site, reducing flow into our overburdened combined sewer system. Mature trees filter harmful chemicals and particles from the air, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as photosynthesis converts this gas into living plant material, and cool surrounding areas. All of the asphalt and concrete in built-up urban environments tends to trap the sun’s heat. Trees provide respite from this heat island effect. These are just some of the ecological services provided by the Crown Hill Woods that benefit all citizens of Indianapolis. This impressive wooded remnant of the past is serving our present and improving our future.

The preceding was the text of the chapter Oak Tree Communication and Fairy Spuds – The North Woods at Crown Hill Cemetery from a coffee table book titled Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary

Dr. Rebecca Dolan earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Georgia, both in Botany.  For almost 25 years Dr. Dolan has been the Director of the Friesner Herbarium of Butler University where she is building a digital collection of our 45,000 Indiana specimens.  Dolan has also done research on plant demography, taxonomy, conservation and restoration ecology in Carolina Bays in South Carolina, serpentine rock outcrops in California, Florida scrub and Midwestern prairies.  She recently has started exploring urban flora in Indianapolis and is a past-president of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS).  Dolan has authored 25 scientific papers and am a frequent contributor to the INPAWS Journal.

Dolan was part of the group of concerned Indianapolis citizens who fought to protect the Crown Hill North Woods from development in 2006, formally known as Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors. The Crown Hill North Woods are, yet again, facing an imminent risk. They are slated to be cleared to build a veterans columbaria. A noble project, but in the wrong location. Please contact David Shulkin (U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs) and Glenn Powers (Deputy Undersecretary for Field Programs) and request that they heed Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s request and find a suitable alternative site that more appropriate honors our veterans, our children, and our natural heritage. 


David Shulkin: (202) 461-4800 | david.shulkin@va.gov

Glenn Powers: (202) 461-5723 | glenn.powers@va.gov



The Virgin Forest Project: Nature Meets Technology

Virgin forests are rare as bears in Indiana today. As IFA and our supporters strive to protect the old growth that remains on public lands, we are grateful for efforts of philanthropists, land trusts, and the Dept. of Natural Resources which preserve our oldest Hoosier forests for public enjoyment. Read on to learn about a film artist’s journey into these forests of surreal beauty (high-definition video exhibition on view in Indianapolis through March 25). And join IFA in advocating for trees to live their full, natural life spans.

by C. Thomas Lewis

In 2015, I received a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. My proposal was to visit and film in the virgin forests of Indiana that are under state control. There are only three such forests: Wesselman Nature Preserve in Evansville, Donaldson’s Woods in Mitchell, and Meltzer Woods in Liberty, Indiana, near Shelbyville. [The fourth virgin forest in the state is Pioneer Mothers, but it is in Hoosier National Forest and cooperation was not forthcoming].

Wesselman Woods, spring 2016. Image by C. Thomas Lewis

Having moved to Indiana in 2009 from Idaho, I think I found myself less than inspired to head out of Indianapolis in search of nature. The mountains I was so accustomed to in Idaho, which lured me out of the city and into the wild, are obviously missing from the view of my fourth-floor window on the campus of IUPUI. My Creative Renewal proposal was designed to get me out of town, into the woods, and to help me discover the natural beauty Indiana has to offer.

My project involved visiting the three forests during each season of the year and shooting extended video footage. More precisely, I shot twelve six-minute motion-controlled shots on each visit. Shooting twelve shots in a single day entails the lugging of a lot of heavy gear in search of angles on the forest that reveal visually interesting perspectives. As hard as the former is, the latter is even harder. The challenge in finding vantage points in the forests that reveal aspects of a complex ecosystem involved training my vision to search for perspectives that were rich and layered and for details that are often overlooked. It also required me to not just focus on excellent specimens of big trees but to also consider the full life cycle of the trees and plants.

Well-composed perspectives can be hard to find when the forest is dense with green in the summer and just as hard to come by in the winter when so much is simply gone. But my sustained and intentional looking opened up the forests to me and gave me a more rewarding appreciation than I would have had from simply walking through. In the process, I truly fell in love with these remarkable forests and was able to discover stunning natural beauty in Indiana that will keep luring me back.

C. Thomas Lewis’ The Virgin Forest Project is on view at Herron School of Art + Design‘s Marsh Gallery (in Indianapolis) through Saturday, March 25.

Filmmaker and video artist C. Thomas Lewis