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.