Lake Monroe’s Watershed & Hoosier National Forest: Defining “Public Good”

By Sherry Mitchell-Bruker

Some say that Lake Monroe is fortunate because 82% of the watershed is forested and 43% of those forests are under state and federal management.

But what happens if both the state and the U.S. Forest Service aggressively harvest in the watershed? This is the issue we are now facing. Of the 24% of the watershed that is state forest (Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood), logging projects are completed, planned or ongoing in both.

Until recently, the Forest Service had refrained from large logging projects within the watershed. That is now changing.

Timber harvesting in the Hoosier National Forest (H.N.F.) has increased from 3,868 cunits (100 cubic feet or C.C.F.) in 2011 to 7,444 cunits in 2014. In 2016 the 38-acre Buffalo Pike project was completed under a Categorical Exclusion, meaning no public review was required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Although the record of decision for Buffalo Pike stated that the project was not in the Lake Monroe watershed, in fact the entire project was in the South Fork Salt Creek basin, which is the most impaired section of the Lake Monroe watershed. Now the Forest Service is planning a 4,000-acre logging project called Houston South, which is also in the South Fork part of the Lake Monroe watershed. The Forest Service manages 42% of the land in the South Fork section of the watershed.

The proposed Houston South project includes 417 acres of clear-cut logging, 714 acres shelterwood harvest, 2,342 acres of hardwood thinning, 96 acres of pine thinning and 435 acres of hardwood selection. Most of the area is steeply sloped with highly erodible soils. The project is in the early planning stages and will most likely change as new information and analysis is provided. According to the 2006 management plan for the H.N.F., habitat in this area is best suited for wildlife that uses large hardwood trees and a mosaic of different-aged forest. The plan said restoring wetlands should be the highest priority to maintain and restore watershed health.

Friends of Lake Monroe is a local group dedicated to finding solutions to improve the water quality of Lake Monroe and its watershed, enhancing its value as a drinking-water, recreational, and ecological resource. We envision a regional community that appreciates, sustains, and enjoys the lake, including its larger surrounding ecosystems, to ensure drinkable, swimmable, and fishable waters.

We have worked with various environmental and governmental organizations, including the Forest Service, to obtain funding to develop a management plan for the watershed. We are working to reduce nutrient and sediments in the streams and the lake. We are asking all of the land managers and residents in the watershed to play their part. Harvesting timber on 4,000 acres risks an increase in soil erosion, which is moving in the opposite direction.

The watershed is large—more than 270,000 acres. The Forest Service manages 50,870 of those acres, or almost 20%. Not only are management decisions made by the Forest Service crucial to water quality in the lake and watershed; they are also the example that is set for the rest of those who live in the watershed. Small sediment and nutrient contributions throughout the watershed lead to large impacts on the lake. Each year harmful algae blooms appear on the lake, fueled by sediment and nutrients that come from the watershed and the lake itself.

In southern Indiana in the 1800s and early 1900s, homesteaders denuded areas with steep slopes by logging and failed agricultural efforts, then abandoned them. Waterways were choked with eroded soil. The national and state forests were established to restore these lands, abating the erosion that had left many bare or gullied hillsides. Over the years the mission of the Forest Service has expanded beyond soil and water protection to include outdoor recreation, range, timber, wildlife and fish, threatened and endangered species, and wilderness as resources to manage. As stewards of public lands, it is the responsibility of the Forest Service to manage these public lands for the public good. So, what does the public think? Polls conducted in various regions across the nation over the past 30 years clearly show that the overwhelming majority of the public opposes logging in national forests.

According to Michael Chaveas, H.N.F. supervisor, the forests of Indiana and the H.N.F. need more old forest and more young forest. During a meeting with H.N.F staff, we were told the forest of Houston South is currently 66% oak and hickory, 22% beech and maple, 4% non-native pine planted to prevent erosion, 2% elm, ash, and sycamore in bottomlands and 1% shortleaf pine and eastern red cedar. The Forest Service contends that it is necessary to intervene in the natural succession of these lands in order to provide more young forest, indicating that short-term disturbance is necessary to achieve long-term goals of maintaining oak and hickory dominated forests.

Shelterwood harvest would occur in three stages over a ten-year period. First the understory (dogwoods, redbuds, and others) would be removed entirely by prescribed burning, manual harvest, or herbicides. Next, half of the overstory (oaks, hickory, beech, maple) would be removed. Finally, the rest of the overstory would be removed. Some have called this slow-motion clearcutting. So, we need to remove an overstory that is two-thirds oak and hickory so that we can have more oak and hickory in the future? How about letting those oaks and hickories mature and provide much needed old forest while protecting the Lake Monroe watershed?

The Buffalo Pike cut, Hoosier National Forest. Photo by Jeff Stant, Sept. 2018

If the Buffalo Pike project area is indicative of the adjacent Houston South project, the endangered Indiana Bat and threatened northern long-eared bat may suffer long-term adverse effects as a result of timber operations. Birds like the Louisiana water thrush, and the Acadian flycatcher could thrive in these forests. Biological surveys of an older, unmanaged forest that is now part of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest showed that the mature forest hosted mink, coyote, red fox, bobcats, deer, flying squirrels, shrews, 48 bee species, 68 bird species (including nesting cerulean warblers) and 108 different lichen species.

While the species composition may differ at Houston South, it is likely to host a multitude of species that will thrive and evolve as time goes by. Is it really necessary to disrupt this thriving oak-hickory forest? Does the desire to actively manage the national forest outweigh our need to protect our lake and our drinking water?  We at Friends of Lake Monroe suggest that there are better alternatives.

As of now, the plan is open for public comment through Wednesday, December 26. Friends of Lake Monroe and others have asked that this period be extended due to the holidays and insufficient public notification and engagement to date. If you concur, contact H.N.F. District Ranger Michelle Paduani to politely request the extension:


The Forest Service is taking public comment on the proposal from now until December 26. Written comments may be submitted by letter, email, or fax. The forest service asks anyone who leaves a comment to include their names, addresses, telephone, and email, if available. The Forest Service asks that you include “Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project” in your comment as well.

Mail to:
Hoosier National Forest, ATTN: Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project;
811 Constitution Ave.
Bedford, IN 47421

(812) 279-3423
ATTN: Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project

Electronic comments must be submitted in a format such as an email message, plain text (.txt), rich text (.rtf), Word (.doc or .docx) or Portable Document Format (.pdf) to Comments must have an identifiable name attached or verification of identity will be required. A scanned signature may serve as verification on electronic comments.

In Person:
They can be left with the Hoosier National Forest Office in Bedford, or by telephone at (812)-275-5987.

Dr. Sherry Mitchell-Bruker is a former watershed manager for the Lassen National Forest, Research Hydrologist for Everglades National Park and President of the Friends of Lake Monroe.

Three Economic Reasons to Preserve Old Forests

by Morton J. Marcus,?Director Emeritus,
Indiana Business Research Center
Kelley School of Business, Indiana University

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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

228 Scientists to Gov. Holcomb: “Conserve major portions of our state forests”

In a letter delivered to Gov. Holcomb today, scientists from 16 academic institutions?statewide outlined an array of objections to proposed logging of older growth forest?tracts?in Indiana?s state forests. The 228 scientists are urging Gov. Holcomb?to set aside areas from timber harvest and reduce the rate of logging in state forests. [The letter and full list of signers and their affiliations is here].

The letter was authored by Leslie Bishop, Ph.D., Professor?Emerita of Biology at Earlham College. She spent six months gathering signatures. She explained:

?As a biologist and Brown County resident, I have been?deeply concerned about the increase in logging of our state forests,?exemplified by?the Division of Forestry?s intention to log 299 acres in the?Yellowwood/Morgan-Monroe backcountry area.

?As an educator and researcher in the fields of invertebrate?zoology, entomology, biological diversity, and wildlife ecology ? and an Indiana?voter ? I felt compelled to bring my scientific understanding of forest?biodiversity to bear on the current policy of managing 95% of Indiana?s?state?forests for timber production.?

See more photos and videos of the letter’s delivery.

Dr. Bishop delivers the letter to Rebecca Holwerda of the Governor’s staff.

The media covered the delivery of the letter.


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?

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 |

Glenn Powers: (202) 461-5723 |



Will the Government Erase the Only Old-Growth Forest in Inner-City Indianapolis?

By: Elizabeth Mahoney, IFA Board President

Forest preservation is an issue that affects every community in Indiana, even the inner city of Indianapolis. As unbelievable as it may seem, there is a 15 acre tract of old growth forest within Crown Hill, a 555-acre cemetery in Indianapolis. It contains burr oaks, Northern red oaks and tulip poplars, some of which are at least 300 years old–a century older than the state itself. Even more unbelievable is the fact that our federal government is about to destroy it to “honor” our veterans.

The Veterans Administration purchased the property from Crown Hill last year with a plan to build multiple elaborate columbaria to inter cremated remains of 25,000 veterans. This plan is a tragic failure of imagination when there are ample opportunities to locate this cemetery in alternate spaces around Indianapolis that have not been examined.


A tree marked in the North Woods at Crown Hill Cemetery. (photo credit: Elizabeth Mahoney)

Ten years ago, robust citizen action, led by the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, stopped a commercial development that would have destroyed this same forest. A proposed retail/condominium development was turned down in 2007 by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission in a year-long fight that made the front page of The Indianapolis Star.

Afterwards, the president of Crown Hill Cemetery assured a scientist involved in that fight that the Cemetery would never sell this forest: ?it would always be a sanctuary.? Crown Hill even published a sumptuous coffee table book in 2013, Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary, which showcased this forest as an indelible part of the cemetery?s heritage. In this book, Dr. Rebecca Dolan describes this forest:

Woods of this size and quality are not found in many places in central Indiana.. These woods are special..At least forty-seven species of trees grow here…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 more than fifteen feet around and are likely several hundred years old…Trees at Crown Hill preserve the gene pool of early Indiana and so connect the past with the present.

Unfortunately, a 2007 attempt to protect this forest as a state nature preserve, backed by $262,500 in approved state support from the Heritage Trust, did not materialize when private funds committed were lost in the stock market crash of 2008.

350+ Indianapolis residents gather to protest the destruction of the Crown Hill North Woods on Sept. 25, 2016 (photo credit: Daniel Axler)

350+ Indianapolis residents gather to protest the destruction of the Crown Hill North Woods on Sept. 25, 2016 (photo credit: Daniel Axler)

So the nightmare has returned, and this time the peril is imminent. Within a year of publishing its coffee table book, Crown Hill Cemetery sold the old growth forest to the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) within the VA, which was seeking to expand the filled National Veterans Cemetery at Crown Hill under their ?Urban Initiative? to house the cremated remains of veterans in Indianapolis and four other cities.

The NCA?s design will destroy and replace this pre-settlement forest with multiple concrete columbaria to house the urns, a memorial wall along with paved roads and parking areas; an information building with restrooms; an electronic kiosk to locate the remains of the deceased; sewer, water, drainage and power lines; and a flag pole area. Designs for this memorial were sketched in 2012–long before the NCA bought the property. The VA emphasized that the conversion of the site will start immediately but take place slowly, in ten phases over a century.

Their bottom line is that this wild, multi-layered, old growth forest will be replaced with manicured lawn, concrete, and pavement. When the VA showed their design at a public meeting, complete with non-native grasses and ornamentals, the crowd jeered. The plantings look like those you might see in the parking lot of a new big box store: a painfully ironic substitute for a native old growth forest so rare in Indiana.

With Crown Hill refusing to sell any of some 70 acres of vacant lawn and brush land immediately to the east and west, NCA bought the old growth forest for $810,000 in September 2015, one month before they had completed the comment period on their Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact, turning any idea of an objective examination of alternatives in these documents on its head. Thus these documents only considered two alternatives: building the cemetery in the old growth forest, or not building it at all. Other vacant space within Crown Hill, and plenty of other vacant space in other cemeteries in Indianapolis, was not considered.

Anne Laker, IFA Communications Director, in front of a massive northern red oak in the North Woods at Crown Hill Cemetery (photo credit: Jeff Stant)

Anne Laker, IFA Communications Director, in front of a massive northern red oak in the North Woods at Crown Hill Cemetery (photo credit: Jeff Stant)

Obliquely publicizing the public comment period with classified ads in the back of The Indianapolis Star, and representing the project to a few nearby institutions as a non-intrusive and serene, somewhere in the north end of Crown Hill, the VA received no public comment. Not until August of this year did IFA get wind of this destructive project. Mobilizing with the Sierra Club Heartlands Group, the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, the School for Community Learning, Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, arborists, scientists, veterans, and others, IFA published a blog post on the issue that went viral: 6,000 people visited IFA?s website in one day, and 400 shared the blog on Facebook.

Children, veterans, neighbors and conservationists continue to flood Indiana?s congressional delegation with calls, letters and e-mails demanding that the VA move the project to an alternative site. The adjacent neighborhood has made known their opposition to the project as it currently stands by penning a letter to U.S. Representative Andr? Carson, the Congressman in whose district this irreplaceable forest lies. Click hear to read the letter the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association wrote to Congressman Andr? Carson. Citizens displeased with the project are also directing their concerns to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and VA Secretary General Dr. David Shulkin. The VA will go forward with construction bids unless Sec. Shulkin orders them to stop.

The people own these woods. The VA bought them with our tax dollars. This project is a major federal action that will impact the quality of the human environment in Indianapolis.?The presence of trees has been proven to?improve health and well-being, increase home values and public?safety, and?reduce crime.?Surely there is a compromise available to find another piece of land for the project that saves the trees, respects our community?s wishes and pays proper tribute to our veterans.

Fortunately the Dr. Laura Hare Charitable Trust has offered to purchase these woods from the VA and make them whole again. Former Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, Randall T. Shepard, penned an op-ed in the Indianapolis Star in which he wrote “I urge our elected officials, the Veterans Administration, and Crown Hill to act on the Hare Trust’s remarkable offer.

Wherever you live in Indiana, you have a voice on this issue. Contact Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, and Reps. Andre? Carson or Susan Brooks if you live in their districts, to let them know you object to this project in its’ current location. Everyone is also encouraged to contact Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

I plead with you to contact?these decision-makers. Clearing of this irreplaceable ecological jewel is due to commence any day now. A tremendous outcry from the public is our last chance at saving these woods. View contact information and talking points for these decision-makers.


Indiana Senate Kills Pro-Forest Legislation Due to “Fiscal Impact”

by Jeff Stant, Executive Director, Indiana Forest Alliance

Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) authored an amendment that would have resurrected Senate Bill 365 coauthored by four Republicans and one Democrat which would have protected 10% of state forest land from logging. The bill?was killed in caucus by Senator Brandt Hershman (R-Monticello), majority floor leader,?because it was deemed to have a “fiscal impact.”

The bill appeared to have enough votes to pass. We were heartened so many Republican senators saw the value in protecting this fraction of taxpayer-owned land for wilderness recreation and deep forest wildlife habitat.

But we are equally appalled by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources? claim to the Senate that the reason not to enact this?reasonable measure?of conservation is that “the state would lose nearly $52 million dollars in lost?timber value and $467,000 in the next harvest?cycle,?if they couldn’t cut these forests down.”?With this, the DNR admits that logging is a?priority above all else.

In fact, the DNR had already committed to set aside 10 % of the state forests from logging in its Strategic Plan for 2015-2019. To gain a seal of approval for practicing ?sustainable forestry,? the DNR had also agreed in audits by the nationally-based Forest Stewardship Council in 2011, 2013, and 2015 to set aside 10 % of the state forests from logging.

To assert the bill would have cost the state this lost timber value was a fraud; the state had already committed to incurring the costs. Also, the asserted fiscal cost overlooked the cost to log these forests at this scale, and inferred that DNR believes it is acceptable to treat our state forests as agriculture, rendering these public forests unusable by hikers, and decimating habitats of native species.

The Indiana Forest Alliance will continue to mobilize citizens to demand that Governor Mike Pence stop the unprecedented level of logging in our state forests and stop pressuring the DNR?s Division of Forestry to fund itself with logging revenue. Take action by spreading our petition. The forests need our advocacy more than ever.


What’s in the Best Interest of Our State Forests?

by Jeff Stant, Executive Director, Indiana Forest Alliance

Anyone who has read IFA’s Facebook page has seen the vigorous debate about the very purpose of our state forests, and what constitutes the best stewardship of these public lands. Here is our stance:

The state forests belong to ALL Hoosiers, not just the timber industry and neither to just the state employees that we hire to manage them.?? Nor does the fact that these state employees have received college degrees mean that the public should have absolutely no input into the management of their public forests. ?The fact that these state employees have received degrees in forestry should also not prevent the state legislature which established the state forests from taking the long view and ensuring that our state forests are managed responsibly and in the best interests of all Hoosiers. ?We do not dispute that good forestry?makes forests more productive in producing wood?for?private industry and society’s benefit.

However forestry is NOT forest science.??Our hardwood forests have been?here for thousands of years and do not depend upon forestry to survive or be “healthy.”

A serious problem has emerged in our judgment because there are no forest scientists, only foresters, managing our state forests, and they are viewing these public forests incorrectly through the lens of industrial forestry.? However our state?law does not and should not?require every acre of our state forests to be logged.??The state forests, which comprise just 3% of the forests in?our state,?can never provide enough wood to sustain a healthy timber industry in Indiana.

On the other hand,?they do provide opportunities for wilderness recreation and the enjoyment of wild nature that no other lands managed by the DNR provide. ?I hope that any legislator?would concur that an inherent part of our best interests in the management of our state forests ought to?include the conservation of an ample supply of our wild heritage for enjoyment by future generations of Hoosiers, as represented by?the IFA’s proposed 13 Wild Areas?(including the beautiful Cataract Wild Area, pictured below).

Today, you can call your Senator and ask him or her to support legislation that protects 10% of state forests from logging.

Call or write Indiana Governor Mike Pence to let him know you want him to:

1) reduce the commercial logging of our state forests to annual levels below the 3.5 million board level

2) establish State Wild Areas, setting aside state forest tracts larger than 1,000 acres from logging or road building.

Thank you! ?Your voice matters.


Eight Hoosiers Bear Witness to Extreme Logging

The Indiana Forest Alliance’s new 6-minute video about Indiana’s quickly diminishing public forestland launched February 1 and has been viewed by thousands of people on YouTube and Facebook. It features eight Indiana residents–not actors–who are experiencing the effects of our state government’s unprecedented?increase in logging. Here’s more about each of these forest advocates and why they are concerned about the issue:

Mayfield 1

Curt Mayfield: Brown County resident, has hunted Turkey, Ruffed Grouse and White-Tailed Deer in Yellowwood and Morgan Monroe State Forests for many years. His best hunting opportunities have been diminished or eliminated altogether by the state forest logging over the past decade.


Bleuel 1Teri Bleuel and Charlie McCalla: Brown County residents whose land adjoins Yellowwood State Forests and who are avid hikers. The serenity they sought in living there and their enjoyment of hiking through Yellowwood State Forest have been ruined by heavy logging of Yellowwood all around them.


Jean 8

Jim Jean: Brown County resident and landowner adjacent to Yellowwood State Forest. Also a hunter of White-Tailed Deer, a hiker and a mushroom gatherer. Many of his favorite stands in Yellowwood State Forest have been knocked down by clearcutting and other logging, including logging next to his home.


Marks 1Dr. Chris Marks: Forest ecologist, author and longtime horseback rider in Owen Putnam State Forest. Also owns land adjacent to this state forest. She is concerned that escalation in logging is harming the nature and purpose of all state forests.



Colby 1Judy Colby: Founder, President, and resident of Anderson Woods, a camp in Perry County adjacent to Ferdinand State Forest which brings disabled individuals into contact with nature and teaches them about caring for farm animals and wildlife. Judy has been dismayed by the destructive logging on Ferdinand State Forest next to Anderson Woods which has alarmed visitors and degraded the environment around the camp.


Waters 1

Tom Waters: Tom and family has owned land for many years adjacent to the Harrison Crawford State Forest along which the Wild and Scenic Blue River flows. Tom is opposed to the current management practices on the State Forest land which limit the old growth or climax forest percentage to 10%?and has the goal of 80%?in an interim phase of oak/hickory. Tom is concerned about destructive logging practices along the Blue River which would be detrimental to the river’s water quality.


What have you experienced in our state forests? Leave a comment on the IFA Facebook page. ?Call or write Indiana Governor Mike Pence to let him know you want him to:

1) reduce the commercial logging of our state forests to annual levels below the 3.5 million board level

2) establish State Wild Areas, setting aside state forest tracts larger than 1,000 acres from logging or road building.

Thank you! ?Your voice matters. Read more about the Wild Indiana campaign here.

In this Bicentennial Year, Let?s Avert a Senseless Tragedy and Conserve Wild Nature as Our Legacy

by Jeff Stant, Executive Director, Indiana Forest Alliance

It has happened again. For the third year in a row, the Chairs of the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees in our state legislature have refused to allow a hearing on a bill that would protect some of the state forests from the plan by the Division of Forestry within the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to log 95% of these public forests within 20 years. Since the Division is already nearly half way through this cutting cycle, the time left on the clock before virtually every tract of state forests is logged is actually closer to just ten more years.


This year?s bills, House Bill 1155 and Senate Bill 365, would have set aside 10% of each state forest from logging in tracts of 500 acres or larger to mature into old growth forests for the wildlife that needs them and for wilderness recreation opportunities offered nowhere else on state public land. Before 2005, IDNR protected some 40% of our state forests for these purposes. Other states, such as Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin have long set aside large portions of their state forests for these purposes.

HB 1155 and SB 365 were authored by seven state legislators from both sides of the aisle. Freshmen Republicans, Representative Mike Braun and Senator Eric Bassler are the primary authors. Two of the other authors of SB 365, Senator Brent Steele and Senator Jim Tomes, are veteran Republican members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. One of the authors of HB 1155, Representative Eric Koch, chairs the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Yet, despite these legislative leaders on the bills, intense opposition by the Pence Administration?s DNR is keeping them from receiving a hearing.

Indeed, the buck for the rampant and unprecedented logging of our state forests does squarely stop at the desk of Governor Mike Pence. Rather than ask the Indiana Legislature to adequately fund the Division?s budget from the general fund as was done for a century prior to 2005, Governor Pence is adamant that the Division of Forestry should raise 40% of its budget by logging the very state forests the Division was established to steward for the public good–even if this means selling the trees at prices barely half of what private woodland owners sell trees of comparable quality for. Further underlying the Pence position is the fervent belief by Indiana?s timber industry that our state forests were established primarily to perpetuate wood as Indiana?s largest agricultural crop.

This week, IFA posted a new short film on YouTube and our home page that tells the story of the state forest logging from the eyes of Hoosiers who live next to these forests, have used them for generations, and want the rest of Indiana to wake up to the destruction occurring in them. We urge you to watch the film, contact Governor Pence and ask him to protect our precious limited state forests. If you?ve already contacted Governor Pence, please contact him again.

Share the film with your friends and family and urge everyone you know who cares about wild nature to contact Governor Pence to protest what is happening under his tenure to our state forests. Just as Indiana does not need state corn fields or state soybean fields, our state forests, which comprise only 3 percent of Indiana?s woodlands, should be protected and managed for public use rather than private profit.

If enough us speak out and keep speaking out, have no doubt that we can and will change this tragic story into a new commitment in Indiana?s bicentennial year, to let wild nature return to our state forests–leaving a legacy for our children and their children, indeed for all Americans, to be awed and inspired by abundant old growth hardwood forests on Indiana?s public lands, forests found nowhere else on Planet Earth.