The trees are David Seastrom’s home.
His house and barn, both right at the edge of Yellowwood State Forest, were made by him, partially from trees that grew in that same spot. Plants have found a place inside, too — big, sprawling, potted ones that perch everywhere on surfaces around his house.
“I see this forest as a living entity,” Seastrom said. “I feel like I owe it to the forest to stand up.”
The latest way he’s been standing up for the forest is in support of Senate Bill 420, which would designate 10 percent of all state forest land in Indiana as untouchable “old forest areas” if passed. These areas, each one at least 500 acres according to the bill, would be free from logging.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been increasing the amount of trees it sells to loggers since 2001, a cause for concern for preservationists.
In 2001, the money loggers paid for trees during sales totaled just slightly more than $500,000. In 2015, that number had increased to just less than three million dollars, which means the total number of trees sold increased nearly sixfold in that same time frame.
Last year, a bill nearly identical to SB 420 was introduced by one of its authors, Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, but it didn’t advance beyond committee. Another similar bill in the House didn’t have any success, either. The idea for the bill was brought to legislators by the Indiana Forest Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group of which Seastrom is a member. The IFA’s original bill would have called for 23 percent of the state forests to be preserved, Seastrom said, but they’ve since had to settle for a lesser amount.
IFA Executive Director Jeff Stant said the 23 percent bill was born a few years ago, but legislative leaders warned it had no chance of getting a hearing, so SB 420 is a more conservative attempt at preserving forest land. Stant said this new bill follows recommendations from auditors, which already say Indiana should set aside 10 percent of state forest land to be untouched by timber management as part of green certification requirements. The state committed to do this, Stant said, but IFA members say it’s not happening. This bill would hold the DNR to that commitment.
Seastrom said he expects resistance to this bill to come from the DNR. The department declined to comment on SB 420.
The Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association, an interest group opposed to the IFA’s beliefs, has come out in opposition to the legislation, along with about 50 other organizations who have written letters against the bill or in support of the DNR’s management practices, said IHLA Executive Director Ray Moistner. A few noteworthy examples include the Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Wildlife Federation and Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Moistner said their opposition to the bill has nothing to do with wanting those in the hardwood industry to profit from lumber sales, but rather it is just an opposition “on principle.”
“The decisions about forestry should be left to professional foresters who know what they’re doing,” Moistner said. “It’s not a forest issue to the forest alliance. It’s more of an emotional issue.”
One letter, sent by the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University in June 2016, announces its support for the statewide DNR and its practices, which help maintain a young and healthy forest. Forests are complex ecosystems, the letter says, and the Division of Forestry at the DNR has properly invested in resources in order to understand how their management affects the layers of living creatures within the forest.
“Investment in scientific research is important because it allows professional foresters to make responsible decisions and adapt management of forest ecosystems as new information becomes available,” the letter reads.
This ties into one core argument of those who oppose the IFA’s efforts. Moistner said the IFA doesn’t have any professional foresters as members, and so their constant challenges to DNR management are uneducated. Following IFA recommendations for state forest management would be like being operated on by a doctor who didn’t go to medical school, he said.
From an IFA member’s perspective, this point of view is just “flat out wrong,” Stant said. He said some of the top scientists in the state side with the IFA on their forest management ideas. The legitimacy of IFA membership knowledge is a topic that gets Stant fired up.
“A large part of the opposition to (DNR) policy is the scientific community,” Stant said. “It’s very frustrating to have the press constantly portray it as citizens who are tree huggers versus scientists.”
The DNR argues their forest management is necessary to maintaining the youth and health of the trees. There are justifications for clearcutting — where a forester removes all trees from a given slot of land — other than just making a profit. The foresters could be cutting down a species in decline in hopes of regenerating it, or removing all even-aged trees, or removing trees that were placed there to sustain the soil but aren’t normally native to the area. Bassler said he thinks the 10 percent is a reasonable amount for the state to preserve.
The argument from the DNR that the forest needs to be managed doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to him.
“That’s an interesting statement because I’m pretty sure for thousands of years or millions of years, God or mother nature or somebody else did a fine job of managing forests before we came along,” Bassler said.
IFA members are more confident the bill will get a hearing this year. Seastrom said Sen. Susan Glick, chair of the Senate natural resources committee, has promised the bill will be read. However, Bassler said he’ll believe it when it’s officially put on the schedule. It helps that the bill has another author, Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, and two co-authors. Bassler’s gut instinct is that there’s a 50-50 shot it’ll be heard.
Still, Seastrom is optimistic for his home.
“We’re very hopeful,” he said. “This is the farthest we’ve ever gotten with any preservation bill in the history of Indiana.”
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