Houston South: IFA joins lawsuit that challenges federal plan to log and burn huge swath of Hoosier National Forest

The Indiana Forest Alliance has joined Monroe County government and the Hoosier Environmental Council in suing the U.S. Forest Service over its plan to log, burn, and apply herbicides to a large section of the Hoosier National Forest. See the original documents below.

Houston South Project.

Within the 17.3-acre section, which lies west of CR 725W, Chestnut oaks abound along this ridge. Many chestnut oak seedlings and samplings dapple the forest floor along with tulip poplar saplings. A stream flows at the bottom of a steep hillside that is noted on maps of the ravine.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Albany alleges the plan could create runoff that pollutes Lake Monroe, the drinking water source for the Bloomington region, and disrupt recreation along the Knobstone Trail, a 160-mile trek through some of Indiana’s most pristine and rugged forests.

 The plaintiffs say the plan violates the National Environmental Policy Act because the U.S. Forest Service refused to consider alternatives that would have mitigated the impact on the region’s environmental resources.

Among those filing the suit are the Monroe County Commissioners, the Monroe County Environmental Commission, the Indiana Forest Alliance, the Hoosier Environmental Council, and Dr. David Simcox. The plaintiffs are being represented by the public-interest law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.

“After nearly 18 months of commenting, asking for key reports, and objecting to this project and the U.S. Forest Service’s dismissal of all the important concerns, Monroe County and the plaintiffs were left with no other recourse but to file this suit, “ said Monroe County Commissioner Julie Thomas. “We are taking this action to protect our forest and the sole source of drinking water for 140,000 citizens in our region.”

Separately, the plaintiffs also have notified the U.S. Forest Service of their intent to sue the agency over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act. They allege the logging and burning plan fails to properly take into account the impact on the endangered Indiana bat and the deeply threatened northern long-eared bat.

 The plaintiffs’ claims center on a U.S. Forest Service plan that would directly impact the Houston South area of the Hoosier National Forest in Lawrence and Jackson counties. The Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project would impact 13,500 acres of the forest through logging, burning, or herbicide treatment.

 “The U.S Forest Service has seemed hell-bent on doing this project regardless of its dramatic impact on people, wildlife and the forest ecosystem in general,” said Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance. “We’re taking a stand to show that refusing to consider alternatives is against the law.”

“It’s unfortunate that the Forest Service discarded a collaborative approach for this project, and instead chose to push ahead with a plan that needlessly increases the likelihood of damage to wildlife habitats, recreational trails, the waters of Lake Monroe, and which will boost the spread of invasive plants,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council.

 The lawsuit asks the court to halt the project and send the issue back to the U.S. Forest Service for further analysis and a decision-making process consistent with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Original Documents