“I owe it to these forests…I know they are what saved me.”

By Crystal C.

My love for nature started when I was 4. My dad took me camping and fishing several times a year. He would tell me to close my eyes, listen, and slow down. I would roll my eyes and say “whatever.” I love thinking back to all those happy moments. Now as a mother, I try to make sure I pass down to my kids what my dad taught me about nature and how important it is. Of course they roll their eyes at me (fair enough), but I know they are listening.

My deep connection with the forest started when I went through a divorce. Life as I knew it changed and I wasn’t taking it well. I became sad beyond belief. I was told I would feel better if I took medication and it did make it better, but I was numb like a zombie. One day I took a walk and sat under some trees and just breathed. I slowed down (like my dad always said) and closed my eyes and just listened. Big deal, right? For me it was, because being under those trees and hearing those beautiful sounds was euphoric.

Now I go a couple times a week and walk in one of the state forests, Yellowwood or Morgan-Monroe. I’ll hike somewhere and sit under some trees and meditate, thinking of how far I’ve come since that first time 10 years ago. I have not been on medication for 10 years and I owe it to these forests and all the trees. I know they are what saved me.

Crystal & friend backpacking in Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

I work as an Emergency Medical Technician on an ambulance, so as you can imagine it can get crazy. I deal with death and violence and heartbreak almost everyday. What do you do with all that? You surely can’t carry it with you. In this crazy chaotic world, I have a sanctuary in these trees where none of those things exist, even if it’s for only 30 minutes.

Have you ever heard of “earthing?” You take your shoes off and stand on dirt or grass to let the energy of the earth heal you. I have been practicing this for a long time. It is actually scientifically proven that this works, so why aren’t we taught to practice it? Sitting under the trees and listening, I can feel the healing energy.

It’s hard to put into words how I feel when I’m in the forest. One of my favorite forest memories was a time when I watched the sunset and listened to the owls. The moon was full so it lit the outline of trees and the fireflies looked like glitter everywhere. The wind was blowing and you could hear the leaves rustling. It was like a nature concert and it was a magical moment. It made me sad to think that one day those trees would be gone, and if the trees are gone the animals will leave as well.

I’ve noticed trees are being cut down at a high rate of speed in the forest I go to most often, Morgan-Monroe. I walked a fire trail that I used to frequent but hadn’t visited in two months due to weather and I had to look around because I thought I wasn’t in the right place. The trail was barely visible due to recent logging. The logs were laying everywhere, wood shavings covered the ground, and there were huge ruts from the heavy equipment.

I cried as it really hit me that they left my sanctuary looking like a war zone. I went to Yellowwood State Forest and found the same destruction. I sent e-mails and a letter to the Governor but only received a generic response. So many people care about and need these trees. Why would the government not care about that?

I think starting a youth group for kids who are having mental health issues would be a great idea, so that they can be taught the healing effects of nature. We can use the forest as a teaching resource. It’s important to keep fighting for the trees. They need us and we need them.

In Defense of the Endangered Species Act

By Anne Laker, IFA Staff

Since 1969, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has acted as a our national safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. It’s arguably the most effective environmental law in U.S. history. The full recovery of the bald eagle is perhaps the ESA’s greatest success story.

But now, in the U.S. House, a barrage of nine bills have been introduced to weaken the law, and one bill draft has been released in the Senate. Furthermore, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has also just released a series of regulatory rollbacks to the ESA. Such proposed changes would effectively neuter the  Act, undermining science, and making it difficult to protect essential habitat for imperiled species — such as our very own Indiana bat and other Indiana-dwelling mammals, birds and mollusks listed here.

One proposed change is that the responsibility — or abdication of the responsibility — for identifying and protecting high-risk species be put in the hands of the states.  The Univ. of California did a study called “Conservation Limited: Assessing the Limitations of State Laws and Resources for Endangered Species Protection.” Here are the key takeaways:

1. Few state ESA laws protect all endangered species within their state.

Only 18 states (36%) provide protection to all animal and plant species. 32 states (64%) cover fewer species than are covered by the federal ESA. Seventeen states (34%) fail to protect plant species. Two states (4%), West Virginia and Wyoming, have no state legislation protecting species.

Of the 17 states (34%) that fail to protect plant species, all have federally listed endangered or threatened plant species believed to or known to occur within the state.

2. Few state ESA laws require consultation with expert state agencies. 38 states (76%) do not require intra-state agency consultation with the state’s expert wildlife agencies for state-level projects.

3. Most state ESA laws allow less citizen involvement than the federal ESA.  30 states (60%) do not allow citizens to petition to initiate the process for the listing and delisting of a species. Only 14 states (28%) allow citizens to petition to initiate the process to list or delist a species.

4. Few state ESA laws protect against harm to important habitat or harm to species located on private lands.  Only 5 states (10%) consider the modification of habitat for a threatened or endangered species to be a form of prohibited take.  Only 16 states (32%) impose restrictions on private land use for the protection of species. Yet, nearly 80% of endangered species have relied on private land for all or some of their habitat.

5. Virtually no states require plans to recover species for eventual delisting. Only 2 states (4%) provide agencies with full recovery planning authority to help recover both endangered animals and plants.

Take the Indiana bat, for example. In 2016, the Division of Forestry admitted that its timber sales in Indiana state forests might inadvertently kill the endangered Indiana Bat, so they requested an “Incidental Take” Permit. The Endangered Species Act allows this incidental take in exchange for conservation measures, based on an approved Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan. This provides an opportunity to minimize and mitigate incidental take by monitoring to determine more precisely where Indiana Bat colonies are roosting and foraging so that timber harvest in those areas can be avoided.

Without the ESA, the Division of Forestry could log without regard for the well-being of the bat.

Call or write Senators Todd Young and Joe Donnelly. Ask them to oppose any proposals that weaken the Endangered Species Act. Do it for Indiana’s native animals.

 

“The Gradual Destruction of Indiana’s Longest Footpath”: A Knobstone Trail Hiker Speaks Out

When the Indiana Division of Forestry announces a plan to log a state forest, we the people get 30 days to comment. New plans to log Jackson-Washington State Forest include re-routing the Knobstone Trail — raising the ire of hikers! Why would our own state government disregard the value of our greatest eco-tourist asset, enjoyed by so many? It’s imperative that we comment to the Division of Forestry, as hiker Laura Pence has, below. Will you speak out in your own voice? Here’s how. The deadline is midnight, Monday, August 6.

“I’m a Knobstone Trail thru-hiker with a great passion for Hoosier forests, and I have some concerns/questions about the plan to harvest timber in the Jackson-Washington State Forest.

In April, I backpacked the entire Knobstone (a.k.a. the “KT”) with friends and we’re planning to go back again in the fall.

Laura and her friend Nicholas on the KT, spring 2018.

This spring there were already multiple areas that appeared devastated by logging and a large swath of damage from a tornado in 2012. Tangles of briers and weeds, not new trees, filled in the areas I hiked through. All of these areas will take many decades to recover. What does the DNR do to restore the ecosystem and encourage the proper types of plants to grow in these damaged areas?

Tornado damage is a natural disturbance; the artificial disturbance of logging is not needed. Photo by Todd Stewart.

It saddens me to think of the forest in the Jackson-Washington State Forest leg of the KT being logged before much healing has had a chance to happen in the woods along the trail. Not only does the harvest leave ugly scars on the landscape, it is very difficult to navigate in areas without trees.  We nearly got lost in the spring because there was nothing to paint a blaze on for half a mile in one of the heavily logged areas.

Is it really even economically necessary to harvest timber in the Jackson-Washington Forest right now? How is the value of that wood determined? My understanding from the Indiana Forest Alliance is that the state is selling timber even when market prices are low, and the prices fetched — no matter what the quality of the wood — are lower than the lowest quality private timber prices 95% of the time.

I understand the value of timber as a natural resource for the state, but I also worry about the impact on our environment, erosion in such a hilly area, and the gradual destruction of Indiana’s longest footpath, the Knobstone Trail.

I love this area and want to protect it for my son, a budding trail runner and backpacker.

Laura’s son Gavin’s very first backpacking trip in the Deam Wilderness, 2013. Photo by Laura Pence.

We only just lost access to one our favorite trail in Yellowwood State Forest due to timber harvest. It seems so much is being taken. Will our children have the same opportunity to escape to wooded wilderness areas that we do?

I hope the DNR is fulfilling the role as long-time conservators and guardians of our beautiful state.”

–Laura Pence (no relation to Mike), Bloomington

Box Turtles: Looking for Love is Easier in Contiguous Forests

By Ann Deutch Hougham, IFA Member

When my husband and I moved back home to Indiana 16 years ago, we had a young Box Turtle visit our garden regularly. It was a mystery how that little turtle could get in and out of our fencing. We finally caught sight of him or her simply turning sideways and scooting through. Box Turtles are declining in numbers through most of their range so seeing a youngster made us especially cheerful.

In the large contiguous forest near our home, we’ve since seen more than 70 different individual Box Turtles, of which 6 were smaller than a full-grown adult. Clearly, the forest in this part of south central Indiana–not far from Morgan-Monroe State Forest–is vital for the future of Box Turtles because we see that some adults are successfully reproducing here.

Any full-size turtle we see could easily be older than we are; Box Turtles can live to be 100 years old. Box Turtle populations, like so many other wildlife, have diminished over recent years. The Eastern Box Turtle is recognized by the state of Indiana as a species of Special Concern, while several similar and related turtles such as the Ornate Box Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle and Spotted Turtle are listed as State Endangered species.  While Box Turtles can forage and nest in a wide variety of habitats, they hibernate in upland forests over winter, burrowing into the soil under leaf litter and woody debris.

Females take about 13 years to reach reproductive maturity.  Turtle eggs and hatchlings are so often eaten by predators that it can take decades for a single female to reproduce herself. A few years ago, a Box Turtle laid her eggs near my driveway. It was evening and my husband and I promised each other to erect a protective fence the next morning. To our dismay, a predator beat us to it. We suspected it was a raccoon who dug up her nest and ate the eggs but it could also have been a skunk or a fox.

Increased agriculture, housing and road development can cause a local extinction of Box Turtles that won’t be noticed for many decades because most likely, it’s the eggs, hatchlings and juveniles harmed by these threats. The adults live so long that it’s hard to notice when young turtles aren’t joining their ranks.

Like you, I want my great-great-grandkids to be able to enjoy seeing them just the way we do. A forest healthy enough to sustain Box Turtles will also be home to a diverse community. That forest will support such a variety of animals, plants and microbes with such complex interactions that the old phrase “web of life” only begins to describe them. And so, what is the impact of logging on Box Turtles?

Researchers on the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment (HEE) in Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood Forests and elsewhere found that logging doesn’t kill turtles within their brief two-year study periods, but it does cause some behavior and physiological changes. For example, after timber harvests the turtles moved more often but shorter distances each day. They often crossed logging roads. Turtles were found more often in the deep forest or on the edge of harvested areas than inside harvested areas.

 

Can we be sure that logging on a grand scale as now practiced, no matter how careful, will allow Box Turtles to survive over the next century?

Purdue recently published a forest management guide saying “Based on our current level of knowledge, it is impossible to predict all consequences, positive or negative, of timber harvesting” (MacNeil). Purdue suggested some Best Management Practices to minimize the problems science already recognizes. Don’t run over turtles, don’t drive in turtle nesting or hibernating areas except when the ground is frozen, leave woody debris on the ground, and don’t disturb temporary spring pond areas. Is this enough to assure turtles will survive in our logged forests? Scientists are not sure.

Here’s what we do know: forest size matters. The bigger the better. Box Turtles in the HEE (Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood) live in a larger contiguous forest and have larger home ranges than any other studied turtles. Two of the 44 radio-tagged HEE turtles were more nomadic than most. How One of them covered about 464 acres in just one year. One nice warm day, this turtle ended up a football field length away from w

 

here it started. Most of the HEE’s radio-tagged turtles stayed much closer to home averaging a home range (home area) of 18½ acres (Currylow 2012 and Saunders 2013).

Turtle nomads are important members of the turtle community. All of the turtles this side of the Appalachians are related as one family according to their DNA (Kimble 2014). How were the family genes spread over such a vast territory? Throughout history some turtles must have been wanderers like the two found in the HEE, traveling far and finding new mating partners all along the way.

A genetic study of Box Turtles all over their range showed that there was historical migration connecting turtles all the way from Missouri to Tennessee. However, the same scientists found evidence that currently, would-be wanderers can’t traverse through the fragmented habitats throughout their range.

Even within their remaining habitat, crossing a road can easily be fatal for a Box Turtle. The same is true on logging roads. Turtles often hide in a little pile of leaves so a person driving a b

 

ig vehicle on a forest road can’t see them at all. Dividing their range with roads is a source of harm to the population as well as individual turtles. Because the few nomadic turtles cross extra roads, they are more exposed to being run over than stay-at-home turtles. In the past, Box Turtle populations operated at much larger geographic scales. (Kimble 2014).

The Precautionary Principle, or erring on the side of caution when any activity raises plausible or probable threats of harm, guides us to save as many of the few remaining large road-free forest areas as possible. It’s up to us to make sure as many turtle populations as possible have a large area where turtles can roam safely and mate with others who live far away.

The IFA’s proposal to set aside 10% of our State Forests as Wild Areas is a nod to the Precautionary Principle. Creating State Wild Areas would help protect Box Turtles and the community of life in the forest in ways we don’t yet understand.

 

REFERENCES

Currylow AF, MacGowan BJ, Williams RN (2012) Short-Term Forest Management Effects on a Long-Lived Ectotherm. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40473. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040473

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0040473

Currylow, Andrea F., et al. “Seasonal variations in plasma vitellogenin and sex steroids in male and female Eastern Box Turtles, Terrapene carolina carolina.” General and comparative endocrinology 180 (2013): 48-55.

(available on Google Scholar)

Kimble, Steven JA, O. E. Rhodes Jr, and Rod N. Williams. “Unexpectedly low rangewide population genetic structure of the imperiled eastern box turtle Terrapene c. carolina.” PloS one 9.3 (2014): e92274.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0092274

Lloyd, Terrell C., et al. “Modeling Hematologic and Biochemical Parameters with Spatiotemporal Analysis for the Free-Ranging Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in Illinois and Tennessee, a Potential Biosentinel.” EcoHealth 13.3 (2016): 467-479.

(not available on the open internet- use a university library)

MacNeil, Jami, Brian J. MacGowan, Andrea Currylow, and Rod N. Williams. “Forest Management for Reptiles and Amphibians.”

https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/fnr/fnr-480-w.pdf

Saunders, Michael R.; Swihart, Robert K. 2013. Science in the hardwood ecosystem experiment: accomplishments and the road ahead. In: Swihart, Robert K.; Saunders, Michael R.; Kalb, Rebecca A.; Haulton, G. Scott; Michler, Charles H., eds. 2013. The Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment: a framework for studying responses to forest management. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-108. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 315-332.   

http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/gtr/gtr-nrs-p-108papers/19saunders_swihart_hee_p108.pdf

https://secure.in.gov/dnr/naturepreserve/files/fw-Endangered_Species_List.pdf

http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/nhesp/species-and-conservation/nhfacts/terrapene-carolina.pdf