Bill would restrict management of old growth forests

By Ashley Steeb
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS— A bill designed to protect older areas of state forests set off passionate debate between those who say forests need to be managed and those who argue they need to be left alone.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources on Monday heard Senate Bill 420, which requires the Department of Natural Resources designate at least 10 percent of each state forest as an old growth forest. The bill also requires the department to refrain from conducting or allowing timber management in the designated forest area.

Chris Marks, a forest ecologist, compares the requested 10 percent of old forest area in Senate Bill 420 to a slice of Sara Lee pound cake. Photo by Ashley Steeb, TheStatehouseFile.com

“I’m convinced that if the DNR can manage 90 percent of the state forest then God will probably be able to manage the other 10 percent,” said Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, author of SB 420.

Old forest areas do not affect recreational activities such as hunting, hiking, fishing and trapping.

The DNR already commits to setting aside 10 percent of state forests in an older forest condition, but the group, Indiana Forest Alliance, say they have not done this.

During the little more than two-hour committee hearing, those packed the room voiced their support or opposition of the speaker by clapping, cheering or booing.

Chris Marks, a professor emerita of Equine Science at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, supports SB 420 and compared the designated 10 percent of forest area to one slice of a Sara Lee pound cake.

“We are not asking for a whole lot here, this represents the interest of your constituents who hike, mountain bike, ride horses through the deep green quietude,” Marks said. “It represents land left to the forest community to evolve and mature on its own into whatever it’s meant to be.”

She went on to say forests did not need human management to survive in the past and they don’t require that today.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources heard Senate Bill 420 which would prevent the Department of Natural Resources from conducting timber management in old forest areas. Photo by Ashley Steeb, TheStatehouseFile.com

John Seifert, director of DNR’s forestry division, opposes the bill because he said humans have to play a part in the ecosystem management process.

“We are losing almost as many trees now to old forest conditions, overstocking disease issues as we’re cutting,” Seifert said. “So does that make a difference? Do we continue what we’re doing? Do we let the trees die?”

He said the department only cuts 0.3 percent of trees in Indiana’s state forests on an annual basis.

The bill was not voted on and will be held in committee.

Ashley Steeb is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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