Hamilton: State missing chance to preserve old forests across Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Carey Hamilton (D-Indianapolis) said today that lawmakers are missing a chance to preserve old forest areas across Indiana.

Earlier this week, Hamilton attempted to pass a proposal that would have designated at least 10 percent of Indiana’s state forests as an old forest area, only to see it rejected by House Republicans. A second proposal offered by State Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) to establish a commission to create a plan for long-term management of Indiana’s state forests was similarly defeated. 

“The failure to pass either of these proposals reflects a concerning trend that places a genuine risk on the few remaining old growth areas in our state forests,” Hamilton said. “We are reaching a point where the predominant use of our state-owned forests is timber production, rather than a balance of purposes that also includes wilderness recreation opportunities, habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species, watershed protection, and flood control.”

Hamilton’s amendment asked for a strategic set aside that creates a no-cut corridor along three premier back country trails – Knobstone in the Clark and Jackson-Washington State Forests, Tecumseh in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest, and Adventure in the Harrison-Crawford State Forest.  This set aside recognizes the value of back country trails to Hoosiers as well as Indiana’s growing outdoor recreation industry. 

In a letter to lawmakers, officials with Rusted Moon Outfitters in Indianapolis said that frequent long-term closures and re-routes due to cutting along the Knobstone, Tecumseh, and Adventure Trails “is threatening our business and most certainly others like ours.”

Hamilton’s amendment also would have required Indiana’s three designated back country areas to be set aside from future cutting.  This provision aligns with a bipartisan public policy in existence since the 1970s, when Govs. Otis Bowen and Robert Orr established back country areas in state forests, and in the 1980s, when Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon established old-growth forest areas.

“It is the job of the Legislature to set policy for the state of Indiana and every year we provide policy directives to state agencies. This amendment would have provided a limited, but impactful and important directive to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR),” Hamilton said.

“For more than a decade, DNR professionals have noted in the forestry division’s strategic plan that at least 10 percent of the state’s forests should be set aside to return to old forest growth condition,” she added. “Rejecting this policy in favor of practices that help destroy old growth areas is short-sighted. Unless we take action at the legislative level, the ecological value as well as the outdoor recreation value of our state forests will be harmed, impacting countless generations to come.”

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