Letter: Forester responds to letter about tree harvests

To the editor:

Mr. Cole needs to check his facts on state forests (July 13 letter).

While it is true that the annual harvest of timber on the Indiana state forests has increased in the last decade, I would like to put numbers to that amount.

Prior to 2005, only about 0.01 percent of the total amount of timber volume available was being harvested. Almost all of this harvesting was done using single-tree selection and small-group selection methods. In other words, only a few trees here and there were being cut.

Yes, in 2005, the harvest was increased on the state forests. Since the increase, the annual harvest has been 1 percent or less of the total volume of trees on the state forests as determined through continuous forest inventory.

Trees grow. That is a fact. Let’s begin with a net volume of sawtimber trees, 11-inch diameter and larger. That volume is approximately 11.508 billion board feet across all of the state forests.

A board foot is the standard volume measurement for standing trees and lumber equal to 12 by 12 by 1 inches of wood, or 144 cubic inches

Annual harvest of sawtimber in 2014 was 15.5 million board feet. The residual volume is 11.492 billion board feet in the forests. Annual growth estimate for sawtimber on the state forests is 24.8 million board feet.

Added to the residual, the new net volume is 11.517 billion board feet.

If one were to look at this in Mr. Cole’s timeframe of 15 years, we would extrapolate the annual growth estimate over 15 years — almost 375 million board feet.

Keeping the average annual harvest of 15.5 million board feet for 15 years equals 233 million board feet.

So, yes, it is not only theoretical, but very logical that the Division of Forestry can harvest about 15.5 million board feet annually and actually have almost 142 million additional board feet of wood after 15 years, not the total deforestation he is predicting.

This increase has allowed the Division of Forestry’s professional foresters to do implement several practices which are actually improving the forest:

• Many of the harvests taking place are removing dead or dying trees, mainly ash and tulip trees. The ash in most of the state forests has been infested with the Emerald Ash Borer which kills an ash tree by feeding on the phloem, the tissue that feeds the tree. Tulip trees have been affected by two things: the drought of 2012 and the tulip tree scale. Many tulip trees in the state forests are either dying or dead from these two assaults. If these trees are found along recreational hiking and horse trails, they can pose a hazard to the users of those trails and those hazards need to be removed.

• When the lands for the state forests were acquired in the early part of the 20th century, they were little more than abandoned farm lands or cut-over lands that were terribly eroded. The first state forester, Charles Deam, started planting hardwoods on these lands and found that they would not grow. His experiments with planting pines to stabilize the soil led to many pine plantations across the state forests. Since most of these pines are not native to the area where they were planted, these stands are deteriorating. The pines have done their job in renewing the soil and are being cut to allow the native hardwoods to regenerate. The cuttings in these stands are also creating areas where the sun can reach the forest floor and allow those tree species that need full sunlight to regenerate, thus creating areas of young forest within the mature forest stands. These early successional habitats are becoming rare throughout the central hardwood region, even though they support a larger diversity of wildlife than mature forests. These areas account for about 600 acres across all state forests annually.

• Most harvesting on the state forests is still done using single-tree selection and group-selection methods. Most of the trees harvested are smaller diameter, low grade and undesirable species — leaving the large trees. Healthy forests contain a mosaic of age classes and diversity of species, which are beneficial to almost all forest wildlife species. Even many migratory songbirds, long thought to remain only within the mature forest, utilize and actually need a diversity of age classes of forests. Many mature forest birds are being found repeatedly utilizing young forests for the abundance of food that they provide.

Mr. Cole does not understand the concept of certification. Certification has no jurisdiction over the valuing and pricing of timber. Indiana state forests are certified through two independent organizations, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Both of these organizations have management guidelines for sustainable forest management.

And just a point of note, 15 percent of the net proceeds of every timber sale go to the county in which the timber sale was done.

While a timber harvest does look like devastation immediately after it is done, within a year, new growth is already beginning. Even in the areas where the old pine stands are being removed, the growth the first year is mostly tree seedlings of species that need sunlight to regenerate.

I invite you to visit the Hardwood Ecosystem Area along Main Forest Road in Morgan-Monroe State Forest. This 10-acre area was clearcut in 2008. Now it is an early successional, 8-year old forest being utilized by many wildlife species including Cerulean warbler, American woodcock, timber rattlesnake and Indiana bat.

The Indiana Division of Forestry is doing a great job of sustainably managing these forests for the future. They are 158,000 acres of working and research forests for today and tomorrow.

Donna Rogler, forester, New Palestine