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.

“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