The Truth about Yellowwood State Forest Timber Harvest
Responses to Claims on SaveYellowwood.com
The ‘Save Yellowwood’ website is a non-DNR website that intentionally exaggerates and misrepresents the management planned for this part of the backcountry area of Yellowwood State Forest.
The planned forest management work will selectively and lightly thin the forest at an intensity much lower than normally prescribed for similar areas found across the State Forest. Each tree identified for removal has been inspected and selected by a trained, professional DNR forester to reduce overcrowding and retain an older-forest character consistent with long-established backcountry guidelines. DNR experts have also reviewed potential impacts on wildlife and have found no significant negative impact from these operations—and find many positive aspects that will directly benefit various habitat types. Much of this review was based on the findings of scientists who have been studying the specific issue of harvesting impacts to wildlife on State Forests over the last decade.
The area in question has been mischaracterized by opponents as unique “old-growth forest,” unlike anywhere else on the State Forest. In reality there has been quite a long history of disturbance, including portions of the area at one time being fruit orchards and having been harvested previously.
Most of these claims and many more are addressed in more detail in a list of public comments and responses.
Select a 'Save Yellowwood' claim below to reveal the truth
- Misperception: $150,000 offer from a hardwood buyer to leave the forest intact.
Fact: An unsigned statement purportedly pledging $150,000 to leave these trees uncut was passed around by those observing the public bid opening. The purpose was to attract media attention. There were four legitimate, legal bids. The bid accepted meets state law and the long-term forest management objectives rather than a profit motive.
- Misperception: THE ONLY PLACES LEFT: State forests are the only public places where Hoosiers are allowed to enjoy “wilderness recreation” such as long-distance hiking, backpacking, primitive camping, orienteering, hunting and foraging in wild nature. These activities are not permitted in state parks, nature preserves, or fish and wildlife areas.
Fact: State Forests are uniquely managed under the principle of multiple-use, multiple-benefit, and will continue to provide multiple benefits, including recreation. This extensive multiple-use system includes the sustainable management and growth of “green certified” timber, providing combined benefits offered by no other lands in Indiana. Much of the Yellowwood area has been harvested before, using single-tree selection. This method has provided today’s older-forest conditions, where recreation and forest management has co-existed for decades.
- Misperception: QUALITY OF LIFE: The Yellowwood/Morgan-Morgan [sic] State Forest Backcountry is a beautiful and needed break for people of all walks of life to get away from modern hustle and bustle. Plus, it’s a great place to get exercise and fresh air.
Fact: The backcountry will continue to provide these benefits under the modified, low-impact management regimen that was adopted in the 1980s and continues today. Users will continue to enjoy these features after the light-selection harvests, just as they appear to enjoy these features elsewhere in the state forest where similar timber harvest has occurred. Most users don’t seem to notice when they’ve hiked through managed forests that have had a long history of harvesting. As a matter of fact, there have been two previous harvests of this backcountry area, in 2011 and 2013. Forest management has increased both recreational use on and recreational revenue from the State Forest.
- Misperception: GOOD FOR BUSINESS: Multiple studies have shown that having public forests available for wilderness recreation makes locations more attractive to businesses and workers looking to relocate.
Fact: Indiana’s State Forests are managed for multiple-use, multiple-benefit to include significant recreational opportunities. The thinning operations specifically tailored for backcountry areas are fully compatible with the recreational purpose of the State Forest backcountry area. Along the trail corridor, additional measures will be carried out to further reduce visual impacts. During the last four years, recreation revenue on the State Forest system has increased an average of 19% under the current management approach.
- Misperception: IT’S OUR FOREST!: It belongs to each and every Hoosier – not the government to sell and destroy for money.
Fact: The DNR Division of Forestry appreciates its mission to conserve, protect and manage the forests for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations. We have been doing so for more than 100 years. We are committed to managing these forests using science as our guiding principle, as opposed to emotion, special interests, and revenues. This requires a long-term management approach to ensure forest resilience and sustainability.
- Misperception: MANY MORE LONG-TERM BENEFITS: The long-term benefits of preserving large tracts of mature forests far surpass the one-time, short-term gain of a timber sale.
Fact: State Forests always have and always will be managed for long-term benefits. This is exactly the perspective our professional foresters take each time they evaluate whether a forest stand should receive some form of management. Sustainable management of forest resources has always included multiple-uses, including timber, recreation, wildlife, hunting, and ecological services. These uses, together with large-tract preservation, are actively undertaken on DNR lands.
- Misperception: IT’S A SAFE HAVEN: Over the past 4 years, it has been found that 21 endangered species live in this forest – including the Indiana bat, timber rattlesnake, smoky shrew, and worm-eating warbler.
Fact: A review of each species of conservation concern found in the proposed harvest area can be viewed here. An assessment of habitats and the species identified indicates no significant negative impacts or threats to these species from single-tree selection. Peer-reviewed research shows either a neutral effect or positive gains for the noted species. While many species of conservation concern have been found within the harvest area, only two are actually classified as “endangered.” Additionally all of these species of conservation concern – even those listed as regionally “endangered” – have been found throughout Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe state forests, and have been the subject of intensive on-site research over much of the last decade.
- Misperception: AND PROTECTION FROM MORE LOGGING: Older forests are a refuge for plants and animals affected by logging. And older growth forests support rare biological diversity.
Fact: The same can be said about younger and middle-age forests. The key to long-term forest resiliency and healthy biological diversity is a long-term strategy that achieves a mix of forest ages, structures and communities across the landscape and over time. The management of State Forests is consistent with this objective. Further, based on the Division of Forestry’s Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) data collected within the harvest area, the mean canopy age in this area is an estimated 98 years old. This estimate is similar to mean canopy age for the entire backcountry area (100 years old), which also was calculated using CFI data. Recent third-party coring, targeting a non-random selection of the largest trees in a portion of the harvest area, resulted in a mean tree-age estimate of 119 years (of these largest trees). Across all of these sampling events, individual trees older than the mean canopy age were found—some more than 150 years old. Across the State Forest system, including the backcountry area, it is not uncommon to find individual holdover or older trees in an otherwise disturbed landscape. Their presence alone does not constitute or indicate old-growth conditions. The fact remains that Indiana’s forests are aging, and a significant amount of DNR forest acres are protected from harvesting and are trending toward older-forest conditions.
- Misperception: TO PAY GOVERNMENT WORKERS?: In the past 12 years, the state has increased logging by 400% to generate income to run the Indiana Division of Forestry. (Yes, they’re cutting down trees to run the Division of Forestry.)
Fact: We have gone from annually harvesting 0.3 percent of the merchantable trees to harvesting 1.2 percent, which actually is a 300 percent increase. For a visual, consider that for every 100 trees in the State Forest, about 98 are left standing after a timber harvest. To a large degree, the harvesting increase is due to the historically low harvest levels of a decade ago and the amount of forest recovery and growth under DNR Forestry management over the last century. Harvest levels are reviewed periodically against scientifically collected data to ensure long-term sustainability of State Forests.
- Misperception: IT’S A FRACTION OF A FRACTION: Indiana’s entire state forest system comprises just 3.2% of the state’s 4,900,000 total forested acres. And the Yellowwood/Morgan-Morgan [sic] State Forest Backcountry is approximately 2,700 acres – which equates to only 1.7% of the state forests’ acreage. Which means it would be the perfect place NOT to log!
Fact: DNR Forestry is only one part of the of the DNR land-holding portfolio. For perspective, view the full conservation property portfolio of the DNR and the differing missions of these various properties. Within the DNR portfolio are 282 nature preserves (set asides) in excess of 50,000 acres. More than 2,900 of those acres lie within State Forests. This includes a 320-acre nature preserve within the backcountry area. DNR State Parks and Reservoirs conserve an additional 100,000-plus acres that are set aside from commercial timber production. In all, an estimated 50 percent of DNR lands are set aside from commercial timber production. The DNR has and continues to establish no-harvest areas across its portfolio. Within DNR, State Forests are the only properties where long-term sustainable forest and timber management is done. The Division of Forestry is duly charged with and actively manages State Forests for the full range of benefits and uses provided by Indiana’s forests: sustainable/renewable timber, diverse wildlife habitats and watersheds, multi-use recreation, cultural resources, and more.
- Misperception: WHY DESTROY PUBLIC LAND?: There is already plenty of logging happening on private Indiana land. Why does the government need to compete with private industry for timber?
Fact: All State Forest properties have a long history of forest management that has included timber harvesting. Even the current stands proposed for harvesting have been harvested in the past. If harvesting is destructive, how are these harvested forests worth saving? The Governor, DNR and its Division of Forestry are committed to managing the State Forest system for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations, which is consistent with the purposes and mission of the State Forests. To achieve this, science guides the long-term management of these resources, rather than politics, budget and special interests, which come and go over time.
- Misperception: IT’S OLD AND BOLD!: It’s the largest tract of mature, closed canopy hardwood forest left in our state forests – where you can walk among towering trees ranging from 80 to 238 years old!
Fact: The large-tree, intact canopy will remain after the selective harvest. In fact, the light thinning will increase the vigor and health of the thinned trees to help promote longevity. The noted tree age is similar to that found on many other areas of the State Forest system. This is due to the vast majority of Indiana’s forest having been cleared or heavily cut-over between 1880 and 1920. It is estimated that the leftover scrub trees were primarily less than 40 years old. This places the age of most of Indiana’s large, mature trees at 88-170 years old. One tree or a small group of trees does not represent the age of the entire forest. As noted previously, this area has been harvested before. Considering what the land had been used for – farming, orchards, grazing, firewood production – it’s likely that most of the trees left standing were not within mature, healthy, functioning forests, as we know them today.
- Misperception: IT’S REALLY WILD! A wildlife survey counted 4,000 species of fish, birds, mammals, fungi, moss, insects, spiders and more.
Fact: This survey has not documented the species’ richness in this area to differ from that of other areas of the forest. To the contrary, replicated and peer-reviewed Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment (HEE) (heeforeststudy.org), the most extensive and intensive study of forest management impacts on State Forest flora and fauna ever conducted – indicates an increase in species richness under a variety of forest management regimens. Opponents of the proposed harvesting ignore these findings. A mere listing of species does not adequately address the question of how the proposed management practices will affect species found in the area.
- Misperception: IT’S TRULY UNIQUE: An IU biology professor calls this area one of the most botanically-rich forested sites known in Indiana. It’s a forest ecosystem with few invasives and lots of natives. The quality of this forest is “likely unmatched in other forest ecosystems in the state – even our State Nature Preserves”
Fact: This statement is based on a “point in time” survey of species that has not documented the species richness in this area to be any different from that of other areas of the forest. The statement is broadly exaggerated to represent the full 299 acres of the planned management area; however, the survey was primarily conducted on nearby forest tracts and only in the southernmost tract of the management unit. Opponents are speculating what impacts will occur from light-selection harvesting without providing any evidence from on-site research. The DNR response to the BCA harvest public comments addresses this point in detail, citing published research on potential botanical impacts from selection harvesting. The replicated and peer-reviewed Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment (HEE) research indicates an increase in species richness under a variety of forest management regimens.
- Misperception: THE ESTIMATES ARE LOW: They claim they will be taking only a few select trees per acre. But you can walk the forest now and already see that they have marked many more trees than that for harvesting.
Fact: An average of six trees per acre were selected and marked for harvest in this thinning operation. Some additional small trees may be felled or girdled to complete the thinning, but this is expected to be less than two additional trees per acre. All told, the thinning will remove fewer than six out of every 100 trees on the site.
- Misperception: TRAILS CLOSED: They plan to close two popular hiking trails, the Tecumseh Trail and Possum Trot Trail, and the primary eastern entry point for at least six months.
Fact: Closures of trail sections do occur on State Forest from time to time to protect user safety and for a variety of other reasons. In this case, only a section of the Tecumseh Trail will be temporarily closed during harvest operations. The closure is expected to last less than six months. Opponents are purposefully ignoring the fact that a temporary re-route has already been established. The “Possum Trot hiking trail” is not a trail but a long-established forest-fire and forest-management road. It will remain in place for hunters and other forest users after the thinning operations.
- Misperception: TREES OBLITERATED: They want to take ALMOST ONE-FOURTH OF THE STANDING TREE VOLUME from more than half the acres in the area.
Fact: The trees selected and marked for thinning contain 447,644 board feet out of the tract’s total 2,914,425 board feet. That’s 15.3% of the standing-timber volume.
- Misperception: COLLATERAL DESTRUCTION: They fully admit that they will also be damaging many remaining trees, tearing up the ground on steep slopes, and leaving stumps, gravel roads and many other very visible impacts for many years.
Fact: We recognize that timber harvesting can look messy, which disturbs some people. Stumps are a necessary by-product of harvesting, and some trees that are to remain in the stand will be accidentally damaged during the harvest. DNR will actively monitor harvest operations as they occur to ensure that tree damage and soil disturbance is kept to a minimum.
- Misperception: LONG-TERM DAMAGE: It will take many generations to see these majestic forests again. Our children and grandchildren need this rich natural heritage.
Fact: The thinning operation will have minimal impact, much of which will be indistinguishable from the surrounding forests in five to 10 years. The more long-lasting visual reminder will be scattered tree stumps and larger tree branches, which may take 10-20 years to fully decay. This large woody debris, while unsightly to some, provides documented substantial habitat value for a wide diversity of wildlife, including the smoky shrew.
- Misperception: WHO’S RUNNING OUR STATE? When told by a state representative about the large number of citizens voicing concern over this, the Governor claimed it was out of his hands. So who’s running this state: the Governor, or the Division of Forestry?
Fact: The Governor and the DNR Division of Forestry are committed to managing the State Forest system for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations, consistent with their purposes and mission. To achieve this mission, science guides the long-term management of these resources, rather than politics, budget and special interests that come and go over time.
The graphic below, which is on the Save Yellowwood non-DNR website, misrepresents and exaggerates by adding restrictions, narrowing definitions and comparing protected forest land to all land uses, rather than to other forest lands. There are 4.9 million acres of forest land in Indiana. There are 167,000 acres of State forest land and 222,000 acres of federal forest lands for a total of 391,000 acres that are off limits to timber harvesting.