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Growing Yellowwood & Morgan-Monroe State Forests

To grow healthy forests, you need to provide the right environment

For more than 120 years, Indiana has maintained a long-term commitment to protecting and conserving our state forests for future generations. This sustained effort has created cleaner air and water, as well as expanding habitat for wildlife to thrive.  

This mission continues as the Indiana DNR plans to deploy new partnerships and tools to continue science-based forest management at Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Yellowwood State Forests.

  • Over the next several years, DNR's professional foresters plan to select single trees throughout 808.5 acres of these two forests' combined nearly 50,000 acres.
  • Following science-based practices, these limited tree removals will focus on creating gaps in the forest canopy to allow sun to shine down to the forest floor, which promotes the growth of trees of all ages and greater diversity of native plant and wildlife species.
  • This management will be led by DNR’s professional foresters. Tree-removal selection will be based on creating the best environment for growth of the forest, and DNR will maintain possession of the logs immediately following management.
  • This management will align with national and international sustainability standards and certifications.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do some trees need to come down in order for more trees to grow?

    If one tree is removed, the purpose is to help other trees around it grow strong and produce offspring.

    Years ago, uncontrolled wildfires burned across Indiana’s landscape, naturally creating these forest canopy gaps to allow such growth. Today, we put those fires out and instead use safe, scientific forest management.

    When the forest canopy becomes too dense, the sun’s light is blocked from the forest floor. Without light, Indiana’s forests transition to a shade-tolerant beech-maple species mix, instead of Indiana’s traditional oak-hickory forests.

    By having DNR’s professional foresters selectively identify limited trees to be removed, more light can shine through. The result is healthier forests and a greater diversity of trees, now and for generations to come.

  • How do we know DNR’s management practices are following the best science for Indiana’s forests?

    Statewide, the Indiana DNR employs degreed foresters, biologists, and ecologists who are passionate about the health and growth of Indiana’s forests. Their work on our state forests and the support they provide to privately owned forests through the Classified Forests & Wildlands program has grown Indiana’s forested lands from just 1.5 million acres in 1901 to 4.8 million acres today.

  • How many trees will be removed as part of this management plan?

    Across 808.5 acres, approximately 12 trees per acre would be removed through single-tree selection over the next several years. That means that trees are individually selected by professional DNR foresters to promote the overall health of the surrounding forest, creating openings in the canopy for light to shine through to the forest floor. This will not be a “clear cut,” and selections are made to make sure that the forest remains strong—now, and for future generations.

    Each section, or “tract,” of all state forests go through this process about once every 20 years, which has slowly built and sustained the state forests that Hoosiers have grown to love.

  • Will the forest still look the same after management activities takes place? How will this work impact our visits to these two state forests?

    Thousands of Hoosiers visit Indiana State Forests ever year to hike, camp, fish, hunt, horseback ride, and more. DNR’s professional foresters manage our state forests with a long-term perspective so that through the next 20 years and beyond state forests continue to be great places to get outside and explore.

    When active forest management is being done, guests may see forestry equipment and some of its byproducts, like temporary ground disturbances and tree stumps. DNR foresters work to minimize the impact this has on the forest and forest guests.

  • How does forest management affect plant and wildlife diversity and the state’s most threatened and endangered species?

    Through forest management, DNR helps support and grow diverse populations of Indiana’s native plants and animals, including our state’s most threatened and endangered species.

    Many academic studies, including the 100-year Indiana Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment that is being conducted with many universities across the Midwest (Purdue University, Indiana State University, Ball State University, Indiana University, University of Indianapolis, University of Illinois, and Drake University), show the benefit canopy gaps and a mix of tree ages/species provide for the diversity of our state’s forest ecosystem.

    Research conducted at Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests found that species richness (the number of species found in an area) significantly improved in study sites managed using the proposed forest management methods when compared to other management methods.

    Beautiful birds like the Eastern towhee and indigo bunting thrive in forests where young trees can grow. Meanwhile, the state-endangered cerulean warbler and black-and-white warbler, a state species of special concern, also benefit directly from forest management’s creation of canopy openings that allow light to shine through (source).

    Researchers studying the Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat – two of Indiana's federally endangered species – have found that forest management activities, such as single-tree selection, can not only maintain the suitability of habitat for essential life activities like foraging, roosting and raising young, but also be used to improve it (source and source).

    Additional research on Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat state forest maternity colonies found that, “bats were attracted to small regeneration harvests of varying structural ages. Forests maintained for a mix of mature stands, thinned stands, shelterwoods, small regenerative cuts (<7 ha), and small water sources should provide suitable foraging habitat for these endangered Myotis species [i.e., Indiana bat and Northern long-eared bat], while also promoting forest regeneration” (source).

    Research also shows that that female Indiana bats preferentially selected maternity roost trees in forested areas with canopy gaps, which provided essential solar exposure for roosting bats. (source)

  • Should the backcountry of these forests be exempt from forest management?

    Through years of science-based management of Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests’ 2,910-acre backcountry (as part of these forests’ combined nearly 50,000 acres), this area has transitioned from agricultural land into a thriving forest. The Indiana DNR and its professional foresters are committed to the continued growth of the backcountry as part of the larger forest.

    This backcountry area was established in 1981 with the mission of maintaining contiguous tracts of land that are relatively free of roads or other development. Per the original plan for the backcountry, camping was to be limited to primitive experiences, and timber resources would be managed.

    The backcountry area is not included in planned forest management in 2024; however, DNR professional foresters are committed to science-based management in the backcountry that can be used to ensure the long-term health of this land.

    Additionally, Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe state forests are home to or border seven nature preserves that house unique and ecologically significant features. These nature preserves cover 645.38 acres and receive Indiana’s highest level of protection, ensuring that we protect these special places for future generations forever.

  • Is Indiana’s forested land disappearing?

    No. In fact, Indiana’s forests are growing.

    In the early 1880s as pioneers began settling in Indiana, much of the landscape was cut, cleared, and burned without consideration for the future. By 1900, Indiana forests comprised only about 1.5 million acres.

    In 1901, the Indiana Board of Forestry (now DNR’s Division of Forestry) was established, “to protect and conserve the timber, water resources, wildlife, and topsoil in the forests owned and operated by the division of forestry for the equal enjoyment and guaranteed use of future generations …”

    Through the work of the DNR Division of Forestry in both Indiana state forests and on privately owned lands, in 122 years, Indiana has restored its forests, and that mission continues today. We now have 4.8 million acres of forested land across Indiana.

    Indiana DNR has planted nearly one million young trees across the state since 2020, mostly in Indiana state forests. And the state’s two tree nurseries grow and distribute 2.3 million high-quality tree seedlings each year.  

    DNR’s work preserves and protects the trees that were here for our grandparents and makes sure that even more trees are here for our grandchildren.

  • What do Indiana’s forests provide to Hoosiers?

    Across Indiana, forests support our environment, our recreation, and our health.

    Through photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide from the air and produce clean oxygen that helps us all breathe. Research from the Arbor Day Foundation states that one tree produces about 260 pounds of oxygen annually.

    Forests also prevent soil erosion, filter rainwater, and protect aquifers and watersheds. According to the U.S. Forest Service, forested watersheds provide quality drinking water to more than 180 million Americans nationwide.

    Indiana’s state forests provide extensive opportunities for outdoor recreation—camping, hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, boating, horseback riding, etc.—which are available throughout the state. Primitive camping is available starting at $13 per night.

    The health benefits of spending time in the forest are clear. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these benefits include strengthening our immune system, reducing blood pressure and stress, increasing energy, boosting our mood, and helping us regain and maintain our focus.

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