Activists and outdoor recreation businesses want Indiana to set aside ten percent of state forests for old growth trees — about four percent more than what the state has now. That was one takeaway that came out of hours of testimony to lawmakers at a summer study committee discussion Wednesday.
Ron Lewis is the general manager of Rusted Moon Outfitters in Indianapolis. He says tourists want more wilderness areas — and to keep logging from ruining their experience of Indiana’s few wilderness trails.
“This is a lot of the recent history of the Tecumseh trail — closures, re-routes, hiking down roads, and for southbound travelers under the Tecumseh, this is how their trip ends," says Lewis, showing a picture of a heavily logged area.
But the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says the state forests are one of the few places where the state can create important wildlife habitat — to preserve species like the endangered ruffed grouse. Older trees can shade out the younger oak and hickory forests that the DNR is trying to cultivate.
Indiana State Forester Jack Seifert says despite the state’s efforts, its forests are getting older overall.
“Our forest is getting older and those trees are getting bigger. It's because we're maintaining that older class. We're not cutting all the big trees, we're cutting medium sized trees as well as some smaller diameter trees,” he says.
The study committee couldn’t make formal recommendations on forest management to the state Wednesday because it didn’t have a quorum by the end of the meeting.
The idea of setting aside 10 percent of state forest land for old growth trees came from amendment by Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis), which failed in this past legislative session.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.