Salamonie River State Forest

Salamonie River State Forest Timber sold at rock bottom prices

The Salamonie State Forest is one of only two state forests in the northern half of the state and is an ecological jewel on the bluffs along the Salamonie River, near its confluence with the Wabash.  

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has auctioned off timber in the heart of the  Salamonie River State Forest for $10,000 in agency revenue (that’s just 6 cents per board foot). For comparison, the average price for low quality timber sold in Indiana in 2020 was 31 cents per board foot and the average price for high quality timber was 93 cents per board foot. The DOF routinely sells timber from public lands at prices below market value

The agency’s webpage on the Salamonie harvest is misleading and contains many inconsistencies. It suggests that only dead and dying trees or non-native species will be removed. In reality, many majestic mature trees have been marked for removal and the sale includes far more native hardwoods than non-native pines. Further, dead and dying trees are an important part of the forest ecosystem. They are the very trees that many species depend upon, including the severely endangered Indiana bat and other threatened bat species.

REMOVING TREES DOES NOT IMPROVE FOREST HEALTH

The term “forest management” can mean many different things. The DNR’s forest management goal is to produce more merchantable timber. There is no ecological reason to remove trees from this forest. Forests do not need to be thinned – they have been thriving for centuries without management. The periodic removal of select trees does not improve forest health. In fact, it disrupts the cycle of life and often increases the spread of detrimental non-native invasive species, which are the biggest challenge to forest health. Our state forests are being overtaken by invasive species as a result of logging. The logging plans, called Resource Management Guides, often say they will eliminate invasives when possible but they rarely make it a priority. 

Timber harvests involve road building to provide access for heavy equipment to cut and haul logs. The Division of Forestry reports the number of merchantable trees but not the much larger number of trees that will be cut or damaged by equipment for construction of roads and log landings or in “timber stand improvement” activities done in conjunction with timber sales.

Heavy equipment is used to remove the downed logs that characterize a high quality mature forest. Many forest species depend on this dead wood for food and shelter. Equipment crushes species that live on the ground, interferes with recreational uses, and contributes to soil erosion and polluted runoff that can threaten water quality downstream.

REMOVING TREES DOES NOT INCREASE BIODIVERSITY

Creating forest openings can be good for some species and bad for others, depending on factors including mobility, life cycle, diet, etc. Experts describe the global decline in insect populations as an insect apocalypse. Dead and dying trees provide food and shelter for many forest species. They form the foundation of the forest food chain upon which thousands of insect species feed. Many species of birds and small mammals, in turn, feed upon these smaller life forms. These trees provide crucial habitat too. Retention of dead wood is crucial to support natural forest biodiversity, especially for (those species that rely directly on dead wood).

“Extracting timber or other products changes the tree age structure, composition of tree species and vertical stratification, thereby affecting local temperature, light, moisture, soil and litter conditions. This results in changes or complete removal of microhabitats (such as dead wood, cavities, root plates or mature trees) that host forest biodiversity.”

Logging the mature forest at the heart of Salamonie means losing the opportunity to bring old-growth forest back to this area in our lifetimes. It means losing the incredibly high diversity of tree species that Indiana’s eastern hardwood forests are known for and Indiana’s wildlife has evolved from over thousands of years. This forest, which has managed to avoid–for nearly a century–the destruction that took all of its neighboring forests, will finally and permanently lose the very parts that make it the “ecological jewel” that it is. 

In 2016, the Division of Forestry considered Salamonie Ravines as a high conservation value designation due to its high quality herbaceous layer with state-listed rare plants including barren strawberry, false melic, Gyandotte-Beauty, and Wood’s false hellebore. Now they plan to log it. The dramatic, irreversible changes to Salamonie’s mature forest that will result from this timber sale will render the forest unrecognizable. Special niche habitats that are only possible in an undisturbed mature forest will disappear, and if they survive the logging, the creatures that live in these habitats will be forced to find another home — no small challenge in the vast, unforested farmland of northern Indiana. 

REMOVING TREES DOES NOT IMPROVE HABITAT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has published federal guidelines for bats that emphasize the importance of retaining mature trees with flaking bark, dead trees, dying trees and those with cavities like many of those that have been marked for harvest in Salamonie. The guidelines make no mention of the need for openings or tree removal. 

Bald eagles are commonly seen in this section of the forest. Eagles may nest elsewhere around the Salamonie Reservoir, but they routinely perch in the tall trees along the bank of the Salamonie River on the northern border of the tract to be logged. Eagles use these trees to rest and watch for prey. IFA staff observed five bald eagles in these trees on November 21, 2021, and we found them in trees along this stretch of Salamonie River in numerous previous visits over the last three years.   

THE TIMBER INDUSTRY DOES NOT NEED THIS TIMBER

The Indiana Hardwood Lumberman’s Association says that only about 1% of the state’s timber supply comes from public lands.

DETAILS OF THE SALAMONIE RIVER STATE FOREST SALE

The Division of Forestry plan is to harvest trees from the entire state forest land base on a 20 year rotation. The Division of Forestry tallies the number of merchantable trees harvested but does not report how many additional trees will be cut as culls or collateral damage due to the construction of roads into the area. Furthermore the preoccupation with merchantable trees ignores hundreds if not thousands of additional trees that are removed as “poles”, trees less than 11 inches diameter at breast height (DBH), and other trees of all sizes that are cut down, girdled or killed with herbicides in “timber stand improvement” in conjunction with the sale. These TSI activities are undertaken to give oaks, coveted for their timber value, an artificial advantage in regenerating the stand. 

The Salamonie River State Forest timber sale took place in a secret online bidding platform on Nov. 30. Only one timber buyer bid on the sale. The DOF sold 984 merchantable trees in the heart of the forest for a mere $10,000. This is 162,466 Doyle board feet of timber, including 394 board feet of veneer quality white oak, at $0.06 per board foot.

When the state sells timber by whole tracts from the state forest as it routinely does, rather than cutting and marketing the trees individually, taxpayers are ripped off. Veneer quality trees, each worth thousands of dollars, are sold for firewood prices. 

In this case, the DOF is saying that their need to improve the forest health (remove what they view as trees with inferior timber quality) brings down the price. We strongly disagree that trees they are removing are dead or dying. For example, they are removing many tall, healthy, mature oak trees. Further, trees that are crooked, misshapen or dying trees serve an important purpose in a healthy forest ecosystem and do not need to be removed. Native hardwood trees are already steadily replacing the non-native pines in the Salamonie tract without intervention, so there is no need to harvest pine either. The bottom line is that the DNR has been managing the state forests “scientifically” to “ensure forest health” for the last 100 years, so why is it necessary now to virtually give away trees to “improve forest health?”      

DIVISION OF FORESTRY

The DNR does not have a management plan for Salamonie River State Forest or any other forest in the state. The Division of Forestry Strategic Plan for 2015-2019 (the name of their management plan for all state forests) is expired and no new draft of the plan has been proposed. Their website mistakenly suggests that the draft Resource Management Guide, a logging plan for tract 3, is the Management Plan for the entire forest. 

How can we trust the Division of Forestry to be transparent and honest about their forest management practices, when the most up-to-date strategic plan is almost three years expired? How can you–an owner of the state forests–be informed of what your public officials are doing, and be meaningfully included in the decision-making process for what happens to your public lands, when the state’s current plans for the state forests aren’t available to you? As a taxpaying Indiana resident, the Division of Forestry works for you, and must be held accountable to what the people of Indiana want for their public forests.

ACTION STEPS

Write the Governor:

  • Ask him to STOP the timber sale at Salamonie River State Forest
  • Tell him the DNR should stop selling State Forest timber at rock bottom prices
  • Ask him to convert Salamonie River State Forest to a State Park

Contact IFA to learn more about how you can get involved in protecting our State Forests 

LEARN MORE

Fair Market Value: An Investigation into State Forest Timber Sales

Concealed Costs of State Forest Timber Sales  

Hoosiers Want Two New State Parks

Citizens from northern Indiana traveled to Indianapolis in April 2019 to deliver 871 signatures to the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (INRC) and Governor Holcomb’s office requesting that Salamonie River and Frances Slocum State Forests be managed as State Parks.

In doing so, citizens sought to protect these forests from planned logging. Citizens requested a hearing to allow testimony from those submitting the petition, other interested citizens, and experts. Citizens also asked that any upcoming timber sales be put on hold while INRC officials considered the petition.

The INRC met July 16 and denied the petition by a unanimous vote, thus allowing logging to proceed. However, many others have begun weighing in, including mayors of many communities surrounding the two state forests. They have asked Governor Holcomb to:

  • Postpone the timber harvest,
  • Complete an economic analysis of the benefits of state parks, and
  • Complete an ecological assessment of Salamonie River and Frances Slocum State Forests.

You can do the same: contact governor Holcomb and make these requests. Also, share your own story about why you value Salamonie River and Frances Slocum State Forests.

Call 317.232.4567 or write  www.in.gov/gov/2752.htm to let him know you want two new Indiana State Parks. Ask that he intercede and postpone all timber sales in Salamonie River and Frances Slocum State Forests.

Media Coverage About Logging in Salamonie River and Frances Slocum State Forests

Get involved! Take action!

Indiana’s forests need you! Be part of an active, engaged network of forest advocates from all over Indiana. What can you do? Join IFA! Volunteer! Or write to or call officials on behalf of Indiana’s forests.

Contact IFA’s outreach team for more information.