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Residents Plea For Stoppage Of Old-Growth Forest Cutting
Updated August 29, 2017 6:18 AM | Filed under: Natural Resources
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Where once there was a trailhead near Crooked Creek Road on the Tecumseh Trail, Matt Flaherty encountered logging equipment and a trail in ruin.

(NASHVILLE) - A plan to log 299 acres of the Yellowwood State Forest in Brown County is causing concern among advocates and longtime residents who say removing the trees disturbs wildlife and fauna in the state's oldest forest.

The Indiana Division of Forestry recently announced plans to log three adjacent backcountry tracts. The planned cut will impact the popular Tecumseh hiking trail. The logging plan includes cutting a remote hollow that contains tulip, poplars, sugar maples and northern red oaks between 150 and 200 years old.

DNR spokesman Phil Bloom says trees to be felled have not yet been identified and marked, about five trees are removed per acre. If that number holds true in this instance, about 1,500 of the estimated 34,400 trees in the designated area would be cut down.

It will target diseased and declining trees, as well as ash being ravaged by emerald ash borer. Selection weighs each tree on its own merits, as well as the health and impacts to the forest area.

Legislation to force the state to preserve 10 percent of each forest as old growth and off limits to logging (SB 420) didn't make it out of committee this spring. Advocates say they will try again next year.

Longtime resident Dave Seastrom and member of Mind the Gap says the state is trying to convert the forest into a tree farm and is sacrificing habitat and threatening or endangered species.

"I've gone into cuts for year later and I haven't seen any oak and hickory," he added. "What I do see is lots of invasive species, continuing soil erosion and 30-foot wide gravel roads that obscure the old hiking trails."

Seastrom says the plan will destroy key habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat, timber rattlesnake, warblers, which the state has listed as a "species of special concern" and the smokey shrews which live only in older undisturbed forests.

"It doesn't do you any good to go in and log around big trees and leave the big trees because all these forests' ecosystems are interconnected and there's plenty of work that's been done to show that you can't just go in and selectively cut and not impact the the sustainability of the remaining trees that you leave behind," Seastrom added.

But Bloom says a decade-long study of the hardwood ecosystem at Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests that showed animal species using mature forests prior to timber harvesting remain after trees have been cut. The study also showed "substantial increases in native species using recently harvested sites" and that forests with higher levels of habitat diversity "are likely to have higher levels of animal, plant and insect biodiversity."

He also cited a 2008 study that indicated DNR forest management practices do not adversely affect the breeding habitat of the state-endangered cerulean warbler as the forest alliance claims.

Environmentalists disagree. "The Indiana Forest Alliance has documented many rare, threatened, endangered bats, shrews, snakes and birds that inhabit this forest," Stant's message to supporters said.

Charlie Cole is a longtime member of Friends of Yellowwood, and he lives on Yellowwood Road. "I'm a tree farmer; I've cut trees to build cabins and I burn wood for heat," he said. "We are not against the DNR and logging. We are against irresponsible logging like they're proposing here."

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is accepting written public comment for and against the backwoods logging plan through Sept. 3. Comments can be submitted online at Letters to the governor can be sent to: Office of the Governor, Statehouse, Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797.

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