April 19, 2022

Forest Alliance says Indianapolis at risk of losing its forests

Rae Schnapp, Indiana  Forest Alliance Director of Conservation - Taylor Bennett/WFYI

Rae Schnapp, Indiana Forest Alliance Director of Conservation

Taylor Bennett/WFYI

The Indiana Forest Alliance is calling on Indianapolis city leaders to prioritize forest conservation. WFYI’s Taylor Bennett spoke to Rae Schnapp, IFA’s Director of Conservation, about the importance trees have in a city landscape and the risk of losing a critical resource.

WFYI's Taylor Bennett: And when we look at the forest in Marion County you think of Marion County as being very urban. Do we have a lot of forest in Marion County?

Indiana Forest Alliance Director of Conservation Rae Schnapp: Yes, we do. Marion County is big. And we're not used to thinking about forests in cities, maybe people would be more likely to refer to them as woods. But our working definition of a forest is one acre of continuous tree canopy. And by that definition, we have more than 4,000 forests in Marion County.

Bennett: So that is a lot of trees and like you said, it doesn't have to be a forest like you would think of like at a state park, but just a wooded area. What is your stance on preserving what we have remaining as far as forests are concerned, in Marion County?

Schnapp: These forests are often taken for granted. Sometimes these woodlands might be thought of as wasted spaces. But in reality, these woodlands are providing really important services to the city, to our residents. And those forests make the city more livable, it makes it cooler and provides shade. They provide places to recreate play and relax and commune with nature, that kind of thing.

And they're very important for absorbing stormwater, they help clean the air. They help cool the air. And those benefits are not just more comfortable, they're actually healthier. So we see improvements in asthma and other conditions that get worse in the heat of the summer. We see improvements in public health if people have access to shade.

Bennett: Do you think that Marion County is at risk of losing most of its forest?

Schnapp: Yes. Right now we're losing these acres, these wooded acres, one by one on a case-by-case basis, and we'd like to see sort of a concerted effort to protect and preserve some of the mature forests that we have within the city.

Bennett: Are they owned by private owners? Or is it the city?

Schnapp: Yes, about 15% of Marion County is covered by forest land, by our definition, one acre larger, and about 15% of those woods are within parks, but 85% are privately owned. And those privately owned lands are particularly vulnerable to development.

Bennett: What is your answer? Is there an easy answer to this?

Schnapp: Not an easy answer. I think there are many answers and kind of a portfolio of options, we're probably not going to be able to save all of the forests in Marion County. And that's one reason why we're really interested in talking with people within neighborhoods about which forests are important to them, and which forests are most important to save.

And we'd like to see a network of forest preserves be established within the city so that those high-priority forests could be protected in that way. And Indianapolis actually has a really good vision, then we have a nice plan for greenways development in the greenways master plan. And if we just implement the greenways master plan that would go a long way towards protecting some of these urban forests.

Bennett: Well, thank you so much for your time.

Schnapp: Thank you

Contact WFYI Morning Edition newscaster and reporter Taylor Bennett at tbennett@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @TaylorB2213.

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