Why Forest Advocates Should Have Hope

By Anne Laker, IFA Staff

Forest advocates are moving the meter at the Indiana General Assembly. How, you ask, since the Senate bill to set 30% of state forests from logging did not get a hearing? And an amendment to set aside 10% was defeated in the House.

Here’s why: the Indiana forest bill in the Senate had support from 10 Republicans, was authored by a Republican, and sponsored by two others. In the House, three Republicans spoke in favor of the amendment, and 13 voted for it. Not to mention that both pieces of legislation have the full support of Democrats.

Forest advocates lobby for Indiana forest bill.

IFA Director Jeff Stant, biologist Leslie Bishop, and economist Morton Marcus make the case in the statehouse halls to a representative for leaving some forest unlogged.

In both cases, the word is that Governor Holcomb put his thumb on the scale. If Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville), the only House Republican to speak against the amendment on the floor, said: “The Governor has authorized me to say that he does not support this policy.” Had this claim not been uttered, who knows how many more Republicans might have voted for it?

So it took backdoor intervention from the Governor to halt progress. This is a governor who has never made a public statement about his position on the logging of Yellowwood, or articulated his own vision for our state forests.

Last weekend, an IFA member saw Gov. Holcomb walking around Nashville. She boldly approached him about Yellowwood. He said he has just been up in a helicopter with DNR staff. The Governor showed the IFA member pictures taken with his phone (from a major distance). The Governor said there was no old growth forest. The forest advocate stated that she understood that it was farmland in the past, but that the forest has been growing since then. The Governor said there were no 100-year-old trees. He said they were clearing the canopy so smaller growth can get bigger.

If the Governor is data-driven, as he often claims, he will take interest in IFA’s study of the Yellowwood/Morgan Monroe backcountry. We found 105 trees older than 100 years in the area being logged now. To say the least, forest advocates must continue to educate and engage the Governor.

IFA Director Jeff Stant greets Gov. Holcomb just after his inauguration in January 2017.

So then, why are we hopeful? “When you look at the level of bipartisan support in both chambers,” said IFA Executive Director Jeff Stant, “you have to conclude that setting aside some of the state forests from logging is an idea that is gaining traction in the legislature.”

Why is it gaining traction? Two reasons.

  • Time and again you’ve responded to the Indiana Forest Alliance’s call to, well, call your lawmakers. Via e-mail, phone and at in-person town hall meetings, you’ve taken the time to contact your senator and representative. Our voices are more audible than ever. Sure, representatives such as Peggy Mayfield and Jim Lucas have state forests in their districts and say they support the DNR. But we’ll only step up our dialogue with lawmakers in this category.
  • The idea of preserving some of our state forests from logging is not a “red” or a “blue” issue. It’s simply a wise, balanced policy. It speaks to the value wild nature has for tourism and for personal enjoyment and solace. Managing a small portion of our forests to be as they were 170 years ago is an exciting goal, one that most Hoosiers from whatever party would undoubtedly support.

The Indiana Forest Alliance is not against all logging. We don’t think that the DNR’s 30 trained foresters are bad people doing things that are 100% bad. Their efforts clearly meet their goal of generating trees to be logged, by supporting more oak and hickory, etc.

We simply question the idea that the single, solitary goal of state forests should be to produce merchantable timber, at the expense of open trails or an aesthetic forest experience or scientific study in unlogged areas. These are the other goals we know to be of value, and there is room for more than one goal. These are the public’s forests, and the public should have a voice in their public purpose.

This is the message we will bring without relent to the Governor, lawmakers, the public, the media—with your help.

Rep. Matt Pierce introduced his amendment by saying that offering our kids the experience of an Indiana forest as it might have been 150 years ago is one good reason to set aside some land from logging.

Gambling with our Natural Heritage

Gambling With Our Natural Heritage

by Dr. P. David Simcox, Mind the Gap: Protectors of the Low Gap State Wild Area

Let’s examine the issue of how our Governor Holcomb has disregarded concerns voiced by a multitude of citizens about the accelerated rate of logging in our State Forests. The Governor has chosen to rely upon his experts, Indiana DNR’s Division of Forestry, to decide the best policy to manage these Forests. In other words, he has exercised his responsibility to make policy by avoiding the issue.

Embedded in this policy is that Division of Forestry staff believes all woodlands need human intervention to survive. Human intervention in this case means logging. It turns out–as the Governor knows–that there is a body of evidence about larger ecological issues expressed by scientists who offer a opposing points of view.

The object of this discussion is not to debate the scientific arguments, but to point out that our Governor has chosen the riskiest approach to managing our resources for the future.

Science is Not Absolute

We have all seen reports of a new scientific study finding something you eat is bad for your health. Then a short time later another study says this same item is good for your health.  Take chocolate or coffee for example. What you are hearing is that science is not absolute. There will be new research to be considered. There are always differing opinions that need to be incorporated into the body of evidence to support a scientific course of action.

Managing Global R&D Programs

In my career as a manager of global technology platforms in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, having a strategy incorporating differing points of view and technology was prudent. Portfolios were created that blended conservative projects and those with higher risk and those with proven technology with more cutting edge science. In no case did we ever bet on one horse. We sought a balanced R&D portfolio that offered opportunities, but minimized the risk.

In reviews with scientists over the decades, I learned to appreciate the researchers who were open to varied explanations for their findings and then sought further investigation to select the right ones. Unfortunately, some scientists are there to sell you on their point of view, not to weigh the options.

Financial Portfolio

What would you do if your financial advisor says: “I found this great stock pick. Let’s take 97.5% of your retirement and invest it all there!” You would likely look for a new advisor. You would never want to take an irreversible or unrecoverable risk. You always seek a balanced investment portfolio spreading your risk and opportunity. It is all about risk management.

Opposing Points of View

IDNR’s current policy protects only 2.5% of our 158,000 acres of State Forests from logging. Even in the “old growth or older growth” sections of their Strategic Plan, they consider logging a management requirement.

Other midwestern states, through policy or science, set aside significant portions of their state forests for no logging. No logging policies range from 100% in Illinois to 25% in Pennsylvania. Why does Indiana’s DNR think that is not a prudent approach? Do they know better? I have been told by a senior IDNR manager that Pennsylvania is “just different” with the only explanation given that it is larger. This outright dismissal should set off alarm bells.

Our Governor has rejected the advice of 228 Indiana scientists who see the current IDNR policy as ignoring the larger ecological picture. These forest ecosystems are complex and intricate. Concerns about the lack of knowledge about the forest soil ecosystems were recently expressed by a Professor Emeritus of Forestry from Purdue University. So much has yet to be learned about the impact of logging on these ecosystems.

Our IDNR is involved in a Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment study. This 100-year project is underway to determine how to best manage the forests. The operative word here is “experiment.” IDNR must be acknowledging they do not have all the answers…why otherwise would you call this an experiment?

In the meantime, while gathering the data, IDNR is ignoring opposing science and concerns and will continue to log all but minor tracts in our State Forests. There are many terms one might use to describe their approach, but “extremist” is a fair descriptor.

Other Governors Have Done Their Job

Past Indiana Governors have understood that our State Forests are precious resources and should be conservatively managed. Until 2002 and then with the subsequent hiring of a pro-logging head forester in 2005, Governors from both sides of the aisle have set aside as much as 40% of our State Forests from logging. This is not a resource for which one should take large risks.

Governor Holcomb is Gambling with Our Future

So instead of developing a policy that balances pro-logging and ecological concerns, Governor Holcomb has decided to push in all his chips and make the big bet. That is what our Governor is doing. Gambling with your and your grandchildren’s future: our natural heritage and the species that depend upon us.

Call Governor Holcomb and tell him he should have not picked just one stock; what we need is a balance in managing our State Forests.