Kyle Hupfer came to Bloomingtonm Indiana on Oct. 25 to defend his plan to clearcut Indiana State Forests as a science-based approach to public lands management.
But the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spent most of a 212-hour public forum deflecting charges that his science is little more than thinly veiled cover for a radical political agenda.
Not only did Hupfer acknowledge that Gov. Mitch Daniels and his DNR plan to increase logging on the 150,000-acre state forest system by 400 percent, but they will clearcut “hundreds of acres a year,” in State Forester Jack Seifert’s words.
And they will cut trees in deep forest areas that have historically been off limits to chainsaws.
“Yes,” Seifert said when asked by the Indiana Forest Alliance’s David Haberman if he planned to log the backcountry acreage that spans parts of Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests. “Thank you for your honesty,” Haberman replied.
Hupfer and Seifert joined forest activists Andy Mahler and Joanna Gras at a town-hall-style meeting titled “Logging the State Forests: A forum on public lands management,” sponsored by The Bloomington Alternative. The discussion attracted an overflow crowd to the Bloomington City Council Chambers.
The evening’s focus was a logging plan in the IDNR, Division of Forestry, Strategic Plan 2005-2007, released by the DNR in late September. With the exception of 18,000 acres of legally protected Nature Preserves, the plan opens virtually the entire state forest system to logging, including watersheds, steep slopes, and endangered species habitat.
Mahler, representing the Indiana State Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee and nearly every speaker who ventured to the podium, assured Hupfer that southern Indiana citizens will not meekly accede to such a radical shift in public policy on their state forests.
“You just watch what’s going to happen over the next few months,” Mahler said. “If you think people are just going to roll over and ignore the fact that you want to increase the logging on state forest by 400 percent ”
In his opening remarks, Hupfer dismissed claims that the public has been ignored in the plan’s development, insisting that he listened to but rejected the positions of those who oppose its logging provisions.
“I heard them loud and clear,” he said. “They believe no trees should be cut off the state forests. It just so happens that science and the current administration in the DNR believe that to be inaccurate.”
Mahler and Haberman took exception.
“I want to state to you very clearly that we are not against managing the state forests,” Haberman said. “We would love to see those forests managed to put them in a healthier state than you find them today.”
Mahler argued it is not a question of management, it’s one of the DNR’s priorities.
“We feel that the public forest should be protected for those public values that are not readily available from private forest-land,” he said, “habitat for forest wildlife, watershed, recreation opportunities, tourism, and so forth. Public forests are the best reservoirs of biological diversity in our area.”
Hupfer and Seifert maintained that increased timber harvesting would lead to greater biodiversity through a landscape with wooded plots of varying ages, which would encourage a wider variety of plant and animal species.
But former science teacher and Monroe County Councilman Scott Wells scoffed at that notion and the science that the state offers in support of its plan.
“You define which biodiversity you want,” Wells said, contending that Hupfer’s plan will boost populations of white-tailed deer, whose numbers already make them nuisances in rural areas.
“We don’t need those,” Wells said. “We need to get rid of them. They are eating the forest. … They’re walking on the roads like dogs.”
As for the DNR’s science, Wells said: “I can prove to you that cigarette smoking doesn’t harm your health. I can do that, but it’s voodoo science.”
Mahler said the DNR is selective in the science it chooses to emphasize.
“They have chosen scientific studies that support this form of management,” he said. “But they have neglected numerous other studies that would suggest the harms that could occur with this degree of logging on the public forests. And there will be harm. Make no mistake about it.”
For many at the forum, like Brown County landowner Jen Weiss, science is critical but not the only consideration worthy of discussion.
“There is something in the human species and the human spirit that aligns itself with the spirit of the forest,” she said. “And you can hem and haw and poke fun at it, but it’s not something that can be quantified.”
Weiss said a logical read of the plan suggests that the entire state forest system would be cut every 45 years.
“This is a dramatic shift in policy, and a very alarming and disturbing one,” she said.
Dave Stewart, who called the plan “bullshit,” demanded to know: “How much are you going to clearcut of my forest?”
Clearcutting is the practice of cutting all trees from a given tract of land rather than logging selected trees. Seifert and Hupfer called them “regenerative openings,” meaning various plant species regenerate in the openings after large tracts have been cut. They also call these areas “early successional habitat.”
“We’re going to be looking at anywhere between 800 and 1,200 acres of early successional habitat right now,” Seifert said. The average size of these cuts, “I’m going to say anywhere between 10 and 20 (acres).”
Seifert discounted Weiss’ calculation that he would cut the entire forest over a 45-year period.
“There are 6 million trees out there,” he said. “We can’t cut them all that fast.”
Haberman reminded Hupfer and Seifert that they work for the public and are to manage public’s land for the public’s benefits.
“I do consider the State forests the forests of the people,” he said. “I cannot afford my own private forest. I do depend on the State Forests for recreation. I go hiking, camping, biking in those state forests. I enjoy them immensely.”
Lucille Bertuccio from the Center for Sustainable Living challenged Hupfer and Seifert’s commitment to biodiversity and scientific integrity. She said they ignored studies by noted researchers at Indiana University about neotropical migrant songbirds that need large, unbroken tracts of forest in places like Indiana to survive.
“We don’t need to increase logging in our forests,” she said. “If one percent of our forests are public forests, 99 percent of any forest anywhere else can be logged all you want. I think that one percent should be kept as a place for the species that need those forests, who need them for their survival can live there.”
Hupfer and Seifert maintain that the state is committed to preserving such “old-growth” forests in Indiana. Hupfer noted that the state forest system has 18,000 acres that are designated “nature preserves” and legally exempted from logging. State parks contain another 62,000 in which logging is prohibited.
“There is significant old growth forest,” Hupfer said. “There is going to be plenty of old-growth forest around.”
Mahler challenged Hupfer and Seifert’s definition of old-growth. The largest tract of original, undisturbed forest in the entire state is the 88-acre Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest just south of Paoli.
“That’s not an old-growth forest,” Mahler said. “That’s a postage stamp. I’m talking about thousands of acres that are capable of supporting the original populations of native species.”
Former Hoosier Environmental Council Director Jeff Stant noted that the total amount of protected deep woods in Indiana is “one-third of one percent” of the state’s total forest acreage.
“Do you think that is sufficient in terms of preserving deep forest habitat?” he asked.
Hupfer and Seifert insisted that the $3.5 million annual revenues that would be generated by the plan’s timber harvests will be used for the forests and not to ease the state’s fiscal crunch.
“Every single dollar of the increased timber harvest will go back into the state forest system in one way or another,” Hupfer said. The department plans to buy new state forestland at a 5,000-acre-a-year clip.
But the pair also acknowledged that the science behind their old-growth plan isn’t ideal.
“It’s the best we have,” Seifert told landowner Laura Carlson.
“We’re using the best that we have here now,” he later told Gras. “We need a control forest.”
Gras suggested the state forest system as a scientific control for old-growth studies.
“Do logging studies on private lands, where you’re supposed to be educating people to manage them in the best way for sustainability,” she said. “It could save you some money, as well.”
Carlson and Gras criticized the DNR for neglecting the needs of private woodlot owners. Carlson said it takes six months to get an appointment with her district forester.
If in fact the logging plan is not about generating revenue and the science is debatable, Gras asked, why not err on the side of conservation?
“Why not wait awhile?” she asked Seifert. “Do the science. … You say we don’t have it. So what’s the hurry? Why do we need to cut down the trees?”
Some of the harsher criticisms leveled at Hupfer’s plan focused on logging in sensitive areas, especially reservoir watersheds and habitat of the endangered Indiana Bat.
Mike Gray, who recently retired from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers after more than 30 years, said he worked on timber inventories around Brookville and Patoka reservoirs, both of which provide drinking water for Hoosier citizens.
He said the corps purchased large trees in the reservoir’s drainage areas to buffer the water from erosion. And, he said, his experience showed that logging around reservoirs is a sensitive political issue.
“It is politically unstable to cut big trees in watershed of a reservoir that provides drinking water,” Gray said.
“I do think that Kyle and Jack have made a big mistake proposing to log in the reservoirs that provide drinking water for a significant number of people in the state of Indiana, just from a political perspective, if not to mention all the potential ecological harms,” he said.
Mahler and Drew Laird pleaded with Hupfer and Seifert to not log in Indiana Bat habitat, such as an imminent cut in the Harrison-Crawford State Forest near Wyandotte Cave.
“Indiana should be designated critical habitat for that species, especially in Harrison-Crawford where the bat hibernates,” Laird said.
Seifert defended the state’s management for the Indiana Bat, noting that its population increased from 173,000 in 2001 in Indiana to 206,000 in 2005.
“Five years from now I feel very comfortable that the bat numbers will be even higher than they are today,” he said.
Mahler was skeptical.
“It’s ironic that you’re sitting up here saying that we’re doing a great job and you’re proposing to change it,” he said. “You’re proposing to change it dramatically over everything that has been done over the past 20 years.”
While the bat’s numbers may be on the rise in Indiana, they are plummeting elsewhere in its natural range.
“It is not recovering,” Mahler said. “It is absolutely not recovering. Extinction is permanent.”
STEVEN HIGGS is the editor of the Bloomington Alternative. He can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.