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Though the trees were spoken for, 299 acres of Yellowwood State Forest were sold Thursday



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Protestors gathered Thursday morning outside the Yellowwood State Forest to protest the auctioning off of 299 acres. The land was sold for just over $108,000. Matt Rasnic Buy Photos

They speak for the trees.

The Indiana Forest Alliance, among other protesters, gathered at the Yellowwood State Forest office in Nashville, Indiana, for a state timber sale of 1,733 trees. The trees are in areas that have been recommended by scientists to be set aside for conservation, according to the IFA.

A young girl, Ellie Rainwater, joined the protest with her family and friends. In her hand was a book — "The Lorax." 

"If they liked to breathe, they wouldn't do this, but apparently they like to suffer and die because they won't have air," Rainwater said. "Go ahead, fine by me. I'll get an oxygen tank."

The Yellowwood State Forest was officially created in 1940 when the federal land was leased to Indiana. The land was officially deeded to the state in 1956, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website. 

The Indiana DNR held the sale, which was reserved for licensed timber buyers via the Indiana Timber Buyer Licensing Law. 

The sale's bidding process began at $70,160 and ended with an offer of $108,785 from Hamilton Logging Inc. 

An offer not accepted nor considered was from Bobby R. Bartlet, the owner of Castlewood Inc., a lumber products company in Tell City, Indiana. He offered the DNR $150,000 to not cut down the trees and conserve them for 100 years. 

The offer was sent through Dan Antes, founder of Distinctive Hardwood Floors and woodworker, who read a letter at the protest. 

Antes said the current buying process does not allow for Hoosiers to utilize Indiana's timber and create jobs; rather, it only benefits specific groups of people, including big corporations within the timber industry, brokers and some loggers. 

"This is our land, we the people," Antes said after the sale. "It's public land. It should not benefit a very small sector of society." 

He said while his perspective is different than the ecological one, he still believes it is important to balance logging and maintaining the land for timber for future generations.

The bid was not accepted due to the Timber Buying Licensing Law, according to Antes. 

This 299 acres of land was of major concern to the IFA, which believes it is more important now than ever to protect, IFA Director of Communications Anne Laker said. 

"We're just asking for 10 to 23 percent of our state forests not to be logged — 158,000 acres in total of state forests," Laker said. "Yellowwood Forest is one of the bigger ones."

The IFA has worked to change this issue on a policy level. A senate bill, titled the Old Forest Bill, was introduced in 2017.

The bill would require the DNR to provide at least one undivided area, at least 10 percent of each state forest, as an old forest area and set certain guidelines for the department to designate old forest areas. 

It would also prohibit the department's conducting or allowing timber management in the old forest areas, according to the bill. 

Though the bill gained support, it did not pass, Laker said. 

Protesters crowded around the fence as bidders and members of the DNR gathered to begin the auction. They tried to get the attention of bidders by yelling, "Shame!" as the bidders walked out and sat down. 

The auction went on with the protest in full blast behind them, signs pleading to the bidders, "Beauty over money," "May the forest be with you" and "I stand with the trees." 

After the sale the IFA released a statement, recommitting itself to its cause. 

"These trees have been sold for 24 cents per board foot, that's what is normally paid for low-quality timber," said Jeff Stant, executive director of the IFA, in a release. "The trees that are to be cut are not only dead and diseased ones; they plan to cut healthy trees, young and old." 

Though the sale went through, Laker said IFA must keep putting the pressure on Gov. Eric Holcomb. 

"These are political decisions that can be changed with a wave of a wand for those who realize trees left standing have way more value than the short-term gain of a low-bid timber sale," Laker said.  

A letter signed by 228 scientists, including 73 IU scientists and professors, urged Holcomb to set aside areas from timber harvest and reduce the rate of logging in state forests. 

Samantha Buran, communications coordinator for the IFA, said the target is Holcomb. She said they will be working on getting people to contact him and his office about making old forests a priority.

"We're not targeting the division of forestry staff; it's Gov. Holcomb who can stop this sale," Buran said. "It's a real shame that they're selling off 299 acres of our public forest for $108,000."

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