Legislators plan to introduce a bill that would force the Division of Forestry to set aside 10 percent of each state forest, with no logging allowed in those areas.
Two Republicans, Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) and Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), will introduce the bill during this legislative session. Previous efforts to protect state forests from logging have gotten stuck in committee with little support from GOP legislators.
“I think what you’re going to see is bi-partisan support for the legislation,” says Jeff Stant, Executive Director of the Indiana Forest Alliance.
The Division of Forestry has been criticized over a new strategic plan, which some say allows for too much logging. The plan maintains timber harvesting levels at 14 million board feet each year for the next four years. Critics also say the plan allows for more clear cutting and provides for too much development, and that there was not enough time for the public to give feedback on the plan.
If passed, this legislation would bypass the strategic plan by making it state law to have areas within state forests that are protected from logging.
“Many of the things that, I think, are being asked in this piece of legislation are already being done on other state lands,” says John Seifert, Director of the Division of Forestry. “There’s already hundreds of thousands of acres of state-owned lands that is off-limits to timber management.”
Stant says that protected lands within the state parks, fish and wildlife lands, and nature preserves are not enough.
“The idea is to create areas of large enough size that you create this interior forest habitat that a lot of forest-dependent creatures need to survive. And our state forests are some of the only lands in the state that have large enough forests to provide that habitat.”
Seifert maintains that new legislation is unnecessary, but declined to comment on whether or not the bill would have enough support to gain a hearing this session.
“We present the facts, people may not like the facts but we stand by those facts. There’s a large amount of state lands that are in non-harvested designation.”
Stant is hopeful, and says 2016 may be the best year for logging legislation to pass.
“It will be an historic law to pass in an historic year, when we’re celebrating the bicentennial of the state and the centennial of the creation of the state parks. So it will add to that recognition of how important the protection of nature is in Indiana to the quality of life here, and the beauty of the state.”