Senate Bill 610 Creates Accountability for Indiana State Forests

By Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director

Senator John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis), and co-author Sen. Eric Bassler (R-Washington), have introduced a watershed bill in this year’s legislative session: Senate Bill 610.  This bill establishes a state forest commission that will propose a 100-year plan for the management of Indiana state forests, with mandated public input.

TAKE ACTION:

Call your Indiana State Senator today at (800) 382-9467. Express your support for this bill and ask that they contact Senator Sue Glick, Chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and ask that this bill have a hearing.

Why does IFA support SB 610? In our judgment, this bill is a significant improvement over the status quo. Currently, there is no legal requirement for the Indiana Division of Forestry to solicit input for any of its management decisions for the state forests. This bill corrects that.

Senate Bill 610 would bring balance to the management of Indiana state forests.

While the bill does not now require any specific amount of land to be set aside from logging in the state forests, SB 610’s requirement for an independent “state forest commission” is huge. The commission would produce (with robust public input) a plan for the management of the state forests for the next 100 years that is supposed to balance the management of these forests between logging and no logging. This requirement alone is a major repudiation of the current management of our state forests–which is committing 97% of the state forests to logging regardless of any public views on the subject. The commission would include lawmakers, foresters, conservationists, scientists, sporting enthusiasts, recreational users, and timber industry representatives.

READ ON for detail on the provisions IFA supports:

The bill (read the full text on the Indiana General Assembly website) would achieve these provisions, which we support wholeheartedly:

1) Establishes a state forest commission to study the state forests and to hold seven public meetings to gather testimony from citizens living around the state forests, the public, scientists and experts in forest management, and to produce a report by October 1, 2021. This input will be accounted for in a plan of the management that should occur in the state forests for the next 100 years, and the plan must be adopted via rulemaking by the National Resources Commission. The state has never required the Division of Forestry to gather public input before to produce a plan of this scope and duration.

2) Requires that forest advocates’ interests be represented on the commission.

3) Asks the commission to determine the options that “constitute a balanced strategy allowing stakeholders to share the state forest as a whole in a way that best satisfies the needs of all” and propose a plan that accomplishes this balance. To do this, the plan will divide all state forest lands between three priority uses: a) to manage the forests as recreational areas and habitat for game and non-game wildlife; b) to manage the forests for the production of high quality lumber; and c) to manage the forests to allow unmanaged natural succession for species native to the indigenous climate zone. This approach is modeled after forest law and regulations in Wisconsin.

4) Ensures that state forest land that is assigned a primary use of logging (“producing high quality lumber”) must have secondary uses of recreation and habitat protection. State forest land that is assigned a primary use of recreation must have secondary uses of logging and habitat protection. State forest land that is assigned a primary use of habitat protection allowing natural succession without logging will not have a secondary use of logging. Thus, the bill provides a statutory basis for advocating that even if state forest land is designated for logging, that the state must also manage that land for recreation and natural habitat protection. And furthermore, that if land is designated for natural succession, the state is not allowed to log it.

5) Guarantees that the Natural Resources Commission will have to rule-make to implement the plan and its assignment of lands to the three priority uses. This guarantee will lock in these uses; the DOF will not be able to waive them later with impunity as it can now.

6) The plan from the State Forest Commission must “embody the principles” that management of the state forests must make allowances for the effects of anticipated climate change on vegetation and include provisions for the maintenance of native wildlife and vegetation.

7) The report issued by the State Forest Commission “must set forth recommendations” for appropriate procedures for wildlife inventory on all state forest lands to be logged. Currently no inventories of wildlife are required or being done on state forest lands slated to be logged.

8) The report issued by the State Forest Commission “must set forth procedures for effective citizen oversight of the plan”.

9) The report “must set forth recommendations about reasonable time periods for implementation of the plan.”

10) The report must also “include a summary of the financial and environmental benefit of forest land for its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

SB 610 won’t solve the problems in our state forests. However, the bill establishes a framework in law for solving the problems that requires a balanced management of the state forests and public input in management decisions. And it will result in management that can’t be waived later by the DOF regardless of public views as repeatedly occurs now.

Some are concerned that this bill does not have any mandated percentages of land set aside from logging. Also, some are also interpreting SB 610 to require state forests be logged, which some find unacceptable. However, this bill no more requires logging than what is required by IC 14-23-4, the statute that established the state forests. This law says that the state forests are to be managed for the benefit of all but adds that cutting and improvement thinning can occur in the state forests to market timber to local economies. For a century, this was construed fairly conservatively to allow for nearly half of the state forests to be set aside from logging.

Then a new state forester appointed in 2005 by the Daniels Administration. That forester decided to devote 97% of the state forests to logging. As long as there is no law that puts some limits on this extreme way of managing our forests, the current, extremely unbalanced management can continue.

We can and will keep trying to pass set aside legislation. However, the Ruckelshaus bill will address the core issue of the need for a balanced policy for managing our state forests. Forest advocates need to get behind SB 610.

Please take action:

These senators sit on the natural resources committee where this bill is assigned. Can you call the Indiana State Senate at (800) 382-9467 and urge them to hold a hearing.

Committee members are:

CHAIR, Sen. Susan Glick (R-LaGrange)
Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg)
Sen. Brian Buchanan (R-Lebanon)
Sen. Justin Busch (R-Fort Wayne)
Sen. Blake Doriot (R-Syracuse)
Sen. Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg)
Sen. James Tomes (R-Wadesville)
Sen. Timothy Lanane (D-Anderson)
Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis)

Switchboard for the Indiana Senate: (800) 382-9467.

THANK YOU!

Read about other forest-related legislation in the 2019 Indiana General Assembly.

There Is Only One Day Left. Contact Your Legislators to Protect Indiana’s state forests!

By Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director

Virtually every week, the Indiana Forest Alliance hears from concerned Hoosiers about proposed logging in their favorite areas of Indiana’s state forests. Added to this are rampant cutting of private forests, and even County-owned forests like the famed Bean Blossom overlook in Brown County enjoyed by generations of Hoosiers. The overlook was “accidentally” clear cut by a timber buyer who was given the green light by Brown County officials with little instruction to limit logging on the site. (See the news coverage of the cut.) On the heels of this cut, the time is now to take action.

Please Tell Your State Representative To Support Amendments to Protect Indiana’s State Forests!

On Thursday, two amendments attached to SB 363 are being considered on the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives. These amendments would:

  • Set-aside 10 percent of each state forest where no logging would be allowed in tracts of at least 500 acres where possible; and
  • Establish a commission consisting of 10 members (nine of them with voting powers) representing the general public, Democrats and Republicans, preservation groups, recreation groups, foresters, loggers, the timber industry, and the IDNR. This Commission will hold at least seven public hearings to solicit public input and develop a plan by 2021 to balance the allocation of state forest acres between logging and non-logging uses as specified in SB 610. The plan would have to be adopted into regulation by the IDNR.

The Indiana Forest Alliance strongly supports both of these amendments. The set-aside amendment would require a minimum amount of state forest land, 16,000 acres or 10%, to be set aside. More than three times the 3% now set aside, these blocks would be large enough to provide viable habitat for forest animals and wilderness recreation.

The commission amendment would finally give the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on how our state forests, which belong to all of us, should be managed. AND it would require that this management balance logging with non-logging uses. These will be requirements IN LAW, instead of merely guidelines.

Indiana's state forests.

TAKE ACTION

Contact your legislator NOW.

Find your legislator name and contact information.

Tell them you want them to support amendments to:

  1. Create a 10% set-aside in Indiana’s state forests where no logging would be allowed; and
  2. Establish an independent commission to solicit public input on a plan to balance the uses of our state forests to serve the needs of Hoosiers best.

Also, tell your representatives why Indiana’s state forests are so important to you—personalize your message.

Year after year, legislators make decisions in favor of the timber industry without hearing the pleas of Hoosiers who continue to be concerned about the destruction of our limited public forests. Would you tell your representative what is happening to Indiana’s precious few wild places that you care about?

Please ask your State Representative to support these amendments.

Thank you!

What’s Wrong with the Plan to Log Salamonie River State Forest

by Jeff Stant, IFA Executive Director

In fall 2014, the Division of Forestry published a logging plan for Salamonie River State Forest near Wabash, Indiana. They are now getting around to marking the trees and are apparently preparing for a timber sale.

Why is IFA particularly concerned about plans to log this forest? At least five reasons:

1) The Division of Forestry is planning to log 260,000 board feet out of 847,000 estimated board feet in the tract to be logged (Compartment 1, Tract 3, 121 acres). This is 31% of the stand and doesn’t count an untold amount of additional trees that the DOF is planning to take in a timber stand improvement (TSI) after the cut that it considers to be inferior species or “cull” trees such as American beech and various hornbeams and maples.

2) It plans to eliminate the sycamores and a native species that is not very common, Kentucky Coffeetree, entirely from the forest.

Trees marked to be cut in Salamonie River State Forest. Photo by Mary Bookwalter.

3) While DOF says a major purpose of the logging is to remove pine to allow native hardwoods to regenerate, the fact is only 29% of the wood harvested will be pine, so most of the trees logged will be the majestic hardwoods. Furthermore, the pine stands are receding with hardwoods already regenerating in them. Removing a lot of the pine and adjoining hardwoods all at once will change the character of the forest to make it much more sunny inviting in a lot of invasives and creating a virtual thicket that will be hard for hikers, horseback riders, and hunters to walk through.

4) The DOF is planning to remove invasive nonnative plants such as bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, and multi-flora rose in the timber stand improvement.  However, these and other invasive species have been exploding across the state forests because the DOF’s logging is opening up the canopy to more sunlight and tearing up the forest floor, the two physical factors that give these aggressive invasive plants the advantage over native plants. Furthermore the DOF does not have the resources to go back into the forest regularly enough to control these hardy invasive plants which bounce right back from cutting.

5) It is hard to find forests as large as the 1,000 acre block of forest provided by Salamonie State Forest for many miles across much of central and northern Indiana — particularly a forest that large that the public can enjoy as wild nature.  And Salamonie’s forested bluffs, ravines, limestone canyons, waterfalls and creeks flowing into the Salamonie River are a beautiful gem of wild nature — of state park caliber — worth preserving in their natural condition.

While Salamonie River State Forest is a smaller state forests than those in the southern half of the state, where most of our state forests are, in some ways it is more significant, because the deep woods habitat that they provide is much more rare in northern Indiana.

IFA’s primary focus is on the management of our state forests because, while they are only 3% of Indiana’s forests, the state forests still provide some of the largest blocks of intact forest in the state and are the only state-owned public lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources where wilderness recreation, i.e., primitive camping, backpacking, long distance hiking, orienteering, foraging, etc, is possible.

We must speak out because the DNR has increased the amount of logging in these forests by 400% over the past 13 years: 3 to 4 times more logging than was ever done in these forests for the 102 years that they existed prior to 2005. At the current authorized rate of 14 million board feet being logged per year, the DNR will have logged through all tracts of the state forests within another 12-13 years.

This amount of logging is destroying the natural wilderness character of our state forests, the forests we all own together as Hoosier taxpayers.

Contact IFA Outreach Coordinator Nick Joseph to learn about how you can participate in organizing meetings and new advocacy efforts for our two northern Indiana state forests, Salamonie State Forest and Frances Slocomb State Forest. And or, become a member of the Indiana Forest Alliance today: join the network of forest advocates.

Authentic Public Input on Public Forest Planning

Last month, Wisconsin-based forester and forest ecologist Fred Clark visited Indiana to dialogue with legislators, DNR leadership, and IFA staff, at the invitation of Executive Director Jeff Stant. Fred brought a unique viewpoint. His 35-year career as a natural resources professional includes leading the Forest Steward’s Guild, a national organization dedicated to sustainable forest management. Fred also served three terms as a state representative in Wisconsin’s state legislature, sitting on governor-appointed forestry committees. And he runs Clark Forestry, Inc., managing public and private forestland throughout Wisconsin, and offering timber management, custom logging, and reforestation services.

IFA is not categorically opposed to foresters or forest management. We simply believe that taxpayers should have a voice in how public forests are managed. And we’re inspired by Wisconsin’s public input process, described by Fred below. Let’s work with DNR to enact this in Indiana!

by Fred Clark

I enjoyed spending a few days last week learning about the Indiana Forest Alliance and about management of state forest lands in Indiana. Along with Jeff Stant and IFA Conservation Director Rae Schnapp, we’ve met with legislators and with staff from the Division of Forestry. I certainly learned a lot!

As a forester, ecologist, and former legislator in Wisconsin, I’ve tried to offer another perspective on Indiana forest issues. We expect our public forests to produce a variety of benefits for citizens, and forest managers must play a critical role in satisfying multiple uses while keeping forests healthy and resilient. As the impacts of climate change and invasive species increasingly affect our forests, that work becomes even more important and more challenging.

Fred Clark spoke at IFA’s 2016 Toast to the Trees event. Photo by Anne Laker.

There is a role for active forest management, including timber harvesting, on public forest lands. Active forest management can include a wide range of activities and intensity, ranging from areas subject to clearcutting, to areas where no management occurs (passive management). It’s critically important, however, to work hard to balance timber management and other values by protecting sensitive and unique areas, and employing a range of management intensity in other areas. Good forestry fits the activities to unique aspects of each site, instead of forcing the same activity on every acre.

In Wisconsin, management on our state forests is driven by comprehensive master plans that are developed for each forest following an extensive process of public input and collaboration with other resource experts. The resulting plans create land use priorities for each forest and provide a picture of the goals and activities that will occur over time. While stakeholders may not get everything they wanted in a good master plan, most will support an outcome that results from a truly inclusive process. We have not had many controversies over forest management in Wisconsin for a long time, and I think our commitment to collaborative planning is part of the reason why.

Forest advocates have skeptical dialogue with DNR staff at a timber sale protest at Owen-Putnam State Forest in June, 2018. At present, Indiana’s DNR appears not to seriously consider public comment on individual forest tract logging plans — whereas Wisconsin has an extensive public comment process. Photo by Mary Bookwalter.

Our public forests are essential assets for recreation, wildlife, clean water, cool and clean air, carbon storage, and forest products. These benefits may not occur on every acre, but they can all occur on well-managed public forest lands. While there may be areas of specific disagreement, I believe that the staff of the Indiana DNR Division of Forestry work hard to balance many competing interests and maintain healthy, productive state forests.

As the Indiana Forest Alliance calls attention to the importance of protecting Indiana’s highest quality forests, there is much room for working together to achieve goals that we should all share to protect forests for future generations.