What You Can Do to Fight a Major New Attack on the Hoosier National Forest

by Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director

Logging areas of ten square miles in our national forests at will, lifting protections on endangered species, weakening foundational environmental laws, and removing local control and public input: these are just some of the poison pills that have been slipped into the annual Farm Bill, H.R. 2. This key bill is under consideration now in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it is a full-frontal assault on your national forests, including our own Hoosier National Forest.

No later than Wednesday, May 16, PLEASE contact your congressional representative to ask for opposition to this bill with these forest provisions (find your representative’s name and contact info here).

Here’s what you can say:

“I write as your constituent to ask you to OPPOSE the federal forest management provisions in the Forestry Title (Title VIII) of the House Farm Bill (H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018). These provisions are the most significant attack on our national forests in years.

Please oppose the Farm Bill as long as it includes attacks on America’s national forests. Here are nine reasons why I ask you to oppose these provisions:

  • The provisions remove bedrock environmental protections.

The legislation is full of provisions that undermine important environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). This bill consistently gives the logging industry priority over all other forest stakeholders. It would cause irreparable harm to our federal forests and the millions of Americans who depend on them for clean drinking water, subsistence, recreation, and economic benefit, and the wildlife that call them home.

  • The provisions give a free pass for logging in the Hoosier National Forest.

The provisions increase the size of the “categorical exemptions” under NEPA by 24 times to allow logging up to 6,000-acres — almost 10 square miles for each single project — without public review or comment, consideration of alternatives or disclosure of potential harms. With these proposed exemptions, loggers would be able to clear 6,000 acres for a host of new reasons, such as creating early successional habitat, thinning forests, or insect and disease reduction.

  • The provisions weaken the U.S. Forest Service’s obligation to protect endangered wildlife.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service currently provides valuable expertise to the US Forest Service in management decisions that effect crucially important forest habitat for the Indiana Bat, Northern Long-eared Bat and other federal listed species in the HNF.  The bill would eliminate the requirement for the US Forest Service to consult with the USFWS in these decisions.

Creek near Birdseye Trail, Hoosier National Forest

  • The provisions regarding wildfire management are not appropriate for the Hoosier National Forest.

Exempting logging projects from public input under the National Environmental Policy Act to prevent forest fires is not needed or appropriate for the Hoosier National Forest.  This will harm the interests of citizens and communities who have long participated constructively in forest management decisions. Indiana’s wet and more humid climate means that only 12-24 fires occur per year in the HNF but they are small, usually 20 acres or less, usually caused by people, burn on the ground and are easily extinguished if they don’t burn out naturally. Lightning-caused fires are rare and are almost always extinguished by accompanying rain.

  • The provisions on logging in national forests will impact the drinking water of southern Indiana communities.

At least 50,000 acres of the Hoosier National Forest drain directly into Indiana’s two largest public water supply reservoirs, Monroe Reservoir and Patoka Reservoirs (source: HNF Land and Resource Management Plan). Monroe Reservoir provides drinking water to at least 100,000 Hoosiers (source: Vic Kelson, City of Bloomington Utilities via IFA board VP Dave Simcox). Patoka Reservoir provides drinking water to an estimated 130,000 Hoosiers (source: Jerry Allstott, Superintendent, Patoka Reservoir Water Treatment Plant).  Thus US Forest Service decisions about salvage logging and timber harvests on these HNF lands can impact the drinking water of Bloomington, Orleans, Paoli, Ferdinand, Huntingburg and many other communities.  The input that federal laws provide to these communities in such decisions should not be restricted by broad categorical exclusions from those laws under any pretext.

  • The provisions take away local control in Indiana.

The Hoosier National Forest is smaller and more scattered than most other national forests.  As a result, the HNF shares approximately 1,400 miles of boundaries with surrounding property owners, making public input opportunities in management activities such as road building, timber harvests and salvage logging important to many local residents.

  • The provisions further reduce areas where recreation in wild nature is possible in Indiana.

Approximately half of the Hoosier National Forest’s 204,000 acres are set aside in the Charles Deam Wilderness or management prescriptions that preclude most timber harvest but usually allow salvage logging (source: Hoosier National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan).   These are the only lands in Indiana that provide wilderness recreation opportunities such as backpacking, primitive camping, off trail orienteering, foraging and hunting in forests that are not being logged or managed for activities that degrade their natural character.  Hoosiers’ opportunities for input on decisions that affect these lands such as road building and salvage logging should not be restricted by broad categorical exclusions under any pretext.

  • The provisions roll back a good faith agreement already made in the recent federal omnibus bill.

In order to fund the huge cost of fighting of western wildfires, an agreement was negotiated  that increased categorical exclusions for logging projects from 250 acres to 3,000 acres to reduce “fuels” ignitable material such as wood. The provisions in the Farm Bill throw out this compromise, reached after weeks of negotiation, in another giveaway to the timber industry.

  • These provisions create problems for the Farm Bill.

The harmful federal forest proposals in this legislation solve no problem; they only add controversy to the Farm Bill.

As you can see, these national forest provisions remove local control, undermine existing laws, and allow Indiana’s only public lands protected for wilderness recreation to be destroyed.”

To all forest advocates: please ask your U.S. Representative to point out how damaging these provisions are to our public forests in any public statements or remarks they make explaining their opposition to the Farm Bill.

Again, you can find your representative’s contact info by clicking here. Thank you!