Yellowwood decision part of DNR mission

A forest is more than trees for timber.

If you followed media coverage of the sale at Yellowwood State Forest, you might be surprised to read that statement. The veteran foresters of the Department of Natural Resources planned and carried out the recent sale to harvest select trees from 299 acres of that forest’s back country.

The truth is both the well-meaning people who opposed the sale and the DNR love our state forests, but we differ on how to care for them. Their approach for the back country is hands off, letting nature take its course. Ours is to scientifically manage an ecosystem that, when land was acquired by the state in the 1950s, barely existed until the foresters planted it.

Indiana law dictates that the DNR “protect and conserve timber, water resources, wildlife and topsoil in forests owned and operated by the division of forestry” and use “good husbandry” to remove timber that has substantial commercial value “in a manner that benefits the growth of saplings.” The recent timber sale followed that course. Our goal is the health of the forests, not profit.

The DNR has and continues to support studying the entire forest ecosystem, not limited to the trees. Our foresters’ research shows that periodically removing dead and dying trees opens the forest floor to sunlight, allowing new trees of the same species to develop. Allowing too many unhealthy trees to stand lets smaller trees develop in the understory. This crowds out young hardwoods from developing.

Part of managing for these conditions involves logging by single-tree selection, targeting mostly dead, diseased and declining trees. In the Yellowwood back country, approximately five to seven trees per acre may be removed, which translates to about two trees per 100. The DNR’s forestry division weighs each tree on its own merits as well as on its health and impacts to the overall forest area. This method is proven and was used in the previous 13 harvests of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest back country area.

Studies by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, DNR and independent researchers show that rare and endangered species, such as the timber rattlesnake, hooded warbler, worm-eating warbler and Indiana bat benefit from conditions created by periodic thinning of the areas like the back country’s current closed canopy. In Indiana, timber harvests are allowed only from Oct. 1 through March 31 to protect bat species.

Our state forests, including their back country areas, are being carefully managed by those who spend a lifetime studying them. More information may be found at dnr.IN.gov/forestry.

Cameron F. Clark is the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.