A Forest Health Bill

By: Paul Rothrock, Ph.D.

My name is Dr. Paul Rothrock and I was a professor of biology for over 30 years at Taylor University and am currently a research professor in the Biology Department at Indiana University. I am also a past president of the Indiana Academy of Science. Among my research interests has been the development of a widely used Floristic Quality Assessment methodology for Indiana. The protocol uses plant to rank natural areas and to monitor habitat change over time. In the past few years I have had the privilege of spending time in some of our amazing state forest land in Monroe and Brown Counties.

It is inaccurate to think of Senate Bill 420 as an anti-timber bill. It certainly would be wrong to think of Senate Bill 420 as an anti-hunting bill. It is a forest health bill. It is a recognition that old-growth forests are a resource needed for the long term health and sustainability of our forest lands. The bill seeks to promote a diverse mosaic of forest types and maturities that support ecosystem health.

Some particular observations:

1.) These mature forests allow the rhythms of nature to play out. As such they serve as reference points for understanding how we are doing in managing our harvested forests. As we compare old-growth forests to harvested forests we learn of the effect of harvest on soils, plant and animal life, the rate of tree growth, and many other aspects of forest ecology. This research helps to improve forest management and the sustainable supply of wood for our economy.

2.) As I have personally observed in Morgan-Monroe State Forest, our old-growth forests provide unique habitats, sheltering species that do better in old forests than in young. One finds in an old-growth forest a greater variety of ecological niches in the form of snags, fallen branches, deep soil organic matter, and tip ups of earth that favor a different suite of species than harvested forests. The results of my floristic quality analyses indicate both a remarkable richness of species and, in particular, an abundance of conservative species. This diversity of species and the mosaic of forest types result in a complex food web and symbioses that support the more familiar commercial and recreational species.

3.) Old-growth forests serve as a source of biological restoration. These forests are sources of seed and spores that spread to nearby areas thus sustaining the health of future forest generations. These forest systems preserve plant populations that are large enough to maintain genetic diversity important for future adaption to changing conditions and disease. (I should point out that this genetic diversity includes the trees themselves whose gene pool probably has been adversely affected by poor harvest practices of the past.)

To summarize: old-growth forests are a research tool, they support the complex mosaic of nature necessary for vibrant animal populations, and they are tools for restoration and renewal. In short, SB 420 is not an anti-timber bill. Certainly it is not an anti-hunting bill. It is a forest health bill.

Thank you.


The preceding was testimony given by Dr. Paul Rothrock during the Indiana Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing for Senate Bill 420 on Monday, February 13, 2017. 

Dr. Rothrock is a graduate of Rutgers, The State University, and received his master’s and doctorate degrees from Pennsylvania State University, majoring in Botany with emphasis in Plant Ecology and Plant Taxonomy. According to the Indiana Academy of Science, Rothrock has been recognized as one of North America’s, and especially Indiana’s, most prominent plant taxonomists and botanists with his research contributions spanning more than three decades. He has published nearly 50 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including five book chapters and one book. He has described three new Midwestern species and brought species status to three others, as well as leading the development of the Floristic Quality Assessment protocol for Indiana. Rothrock was elected Indiana Academy of Science Fellow in 1992 and has also served on several Academy committees. He has been the Vice-chair and Chair of Plant Systematics and Biodiversity Section. He served as Indiana Academy of Science President in 2009.