Indiana’s state forests may be heavier on oaks and poplars than Technicolor Truffulas, but this tree-hugging salvo from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax could as easily refer to the woodlands of Brown County as the setting of kiddie lit’s most famous environmentalist story. Like the Truffulas, Indiana’s hill-country trees are stately—and in danger from loggers.
Timber-harvesting in Indiana state forests has increased by 400 percent since 2005, when a Department of Natural Resources strategic plan called for increased logging to help fill its coffers. The policy has led to dramatic clear cuts in Morgan-Monroe and other state forests and, most recently, to a controversial
November 2017 timber sale in Brown County’s Yellowwood State Forest. If you didn’t see the Save Yellowwood yard signs last year, you must not have left the house.
A portion of the 23,000 acres of Yellowwood has, since 1981, been designated a Back Country Area. BCAs are meant to be safe from the road-building and heavy machinery that logging introduces to a forest—hence the public outcry over the Yellowwood sale. It ultimately went through, though, heavy machinery and all. (The winning bidder, Martinsville-based Hamilton Logging, began felling trees in February.)
Statistically, the sale’s impact was small. Hamilton removed around five to seven carefully selected trees per acre from a 299-acre tract of land. But to the Indiana Forest Alliance and other conservationist groups, it was a troubling harbinger of things to come. State forests, at a total of 158,000 acres, comprise just a fraction of Indiana’s 4.7 million acres of forestland. Most of the rest is privately owned. Why not, the IFA argues, set aside some of what the state can control for preservation?
Protesters made 5,070 phone calls to Governor Eric Holcomb arguing against the Yellowwood logging, and 255 Hoosiers showed up to the forest to protest on auction day. They also lobbied for a bill at the last Indiana General Assembly that would have protected 30 percent of Hoosier forests from ever being touched. Unfortunately for the environmentalists, it died in the state Senate last session.
This winter, the IFA has turned its attention to a new front in the ongoing war. A 121-acre tract of Salamonie River State Forest in Northern Indiana has been marked for logging by the DNR, and protesters hope to have more luck stopping it than they had in Yellowwood. From their perspective, the state can’t see the forest for the trees.