Letter: Healthy forests need some management

To the editor:

I read the response from Curt Mayfield, Indiana Forest Alliance board director, to forester Donna Rogler’s letter.

It is unlikely logging traffic was the major cause of past road damage that Mr. Mayfield infers led to a county tax increase to pay for road maintenance.

Active forest and habitat management has only recently been resurrected after decades of inactivity. As forester Rogler notes, annual timber harvest volume increased from 0.01 percent in the previous decade to a current nominal rate of 1 percent. Harvest rates have been very low in Indiana compared to neighboring states largely due to litigation and other thwarting activity by groups like the IFA that advocate for hands-off management and forest monoculture.

Beyond local and state economic contribution from forest products, our neighbor to the north demonstrates the even greater benefit of healthy and diverse forest. Examine Google Map satellite images of state and federal forests in Michigan and see discernibly greater management than Indiana as evidenced by regenerative clear and selective cutting. Michigan’s forests draw millions of visitors who generate billions of dollars for their tourist industry.

The current 1 percent harvest rate is hardly radical, and while encouraging, is less than ideal to restore a healthy habitat mosaic that includes young forest, particularly given the persistent threat of invasive insects and plants and absence of wildfire.

U.S. Forest Service data for Indiana shows young forest stands 0 to 19 years old decreased 70 percent from 1986 to 2013, and now make up a meager 5 percent of Indiana forest — whereas old forest stands over 100 years old increased over 50 percent. Stands over 60 years old comprise 50 percent of state forest. During the same period, total forest acres increased from 4 million to 4.9 million acres.

The disproportionate loss of young forest habitat is having a devastating impact on wildlife. Decades of hands-off habitat management on our public forests is moving too many Indiana wildlife and plant species to dangerously low levels and a point of no return.

The U.S. Geological Service annual bird survey conducted since 1966 shows populations of Indiana older forest bird species are faring far better than young forest bird species — 42 percent of young forest bird species have seen population declines.

Older outdoor enthusiasts will recall the thrill and heart palpitations they experienced when stumbling across a thundering Ruffed Grouse. After a 98 percent decrease over the last 25 years, grouse are on the verge of extirpation from the state due to loss of dense young forest habitat required for nesting and raising their young.

Looking at another young forest bird species, Indiana has seen the largest annual decline of American Woodcock of any state in the north-central region.

Deer and turkey hunters beware: we face loses of dominant oak and hickory forest that provide mast for wild game and other wildlife; and regeneration of new growth oak and hickory is at historic lows. As a result, wild turkey populations have crested over their restoration boom and harvest numbers are down 13 percent from their peak in 2010, despite ever-increasing numbers of turkey hunters.

For thousands of years prior to Columbus, humans actively managed and shaped the eastern hardwood landscape by clearing and burning to provide a diversity of habitat that supported incredibly abundant and diverse wildlife.

For decades, state and federal biologists and foresters have been proposing management plans that mimic these historical disturbances; their projects are only now coming to fruition.

We need to protect Indiana natural heritage by supporting public forest habitat improvement projects; otherwise, we’ll have to write the epitaphs for a number of Indiana’s wildlife species.

Dan Gehring, Zionsville

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