Along The Trail 4-21-16

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Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.

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“There are some who can live without wild things

and some who cannot” -Aldo Leopold.

I tend to fall into the “cannot” category that Mr. Leopold refers too.

Although here in Switzerland County, we don’t give much thought to truly wild places or huge, unbroken tracts of forest and public lands, but Indiana is blessed with some beautiful publicly accessible pieces of wilderness – Brown County State Park, Hoosier National Forest, Versailles State Park, Clifty Falls, and Big Oaks – all come to mind when we think about our public woods and forest land.

But, for many of us that enjoy the great outdoors, we take for granted just how fragile those public acres are for Hoosiers. Many of our state and national forests are being logged at an alarming rate for one sole purpose: money.

For several legislative sessions now, the Division of Forestry has seen its budget cut by our politicians and the powers that be have been told to make up the financial short fall through the harvest of timber

I am a huge advocate of selective timber cutting. Study after study has proven that by using the best logging practices, wildlife, plant life, and habitat all improve from selective taking of timber. Environmentally sound logging practices have shown that continued timber harvest can be sustained decades into the future.

But that’s not the kind of logging that’s taking place on and in our state forests.

According to the Indiana Forest Alliance, Indiana’s logging on public land has increased nearly 1000% over the past 20 years. The trees that were typically harvested in the past, the large mature trees that needed removed are now not the only ones falling. Many tracts of forests now are losing trees in the 15″-16″ diameter range that are destined for the pallet factory as opposed to furniture or other uses of fine hardwood.

Several of our public forests are having sections clear cut, leaving behind muddy, eroded messes with no plan to re-seed or the fix the damage. The negative effects of this kind of logging range from water quality and sediment issues to loss of animal and plant habitat. The kind of dark forest habitat required by some species wildlife and plants.

We live in a society where everything is based on money, but not every decision we make, whether individually or those of our government can be based strictly on economics. Some things you just can’t put a price on.

There are no lumber buyers clamoring to purchase Indiana hardwoods taken from our public land. In fact, our public timber sells at a cheaper price than timber harvested from private ground, private ground that more than meets the need of the lumber industry in our state. Our government officials are selling off our trees at a discounted rate, regardless of the consequences.

And, folks it’s not just happening in our state.

There are much larger issues involving public land and access to it all over the country, in particular out West. Many state politicians in the Western part of the country would like to see control of millions and millions of acres of Federal land come back into the hands of state government where it can then be sold off to the private sector to the highest bidder in order to offset those states’ financial short falls, and if that were to happen, the public would lose access to it. Again, like here in Indiana and our uncontrolled timber harvest on public lands, it’s a short term fix to a long term problem.

Leopold also once said, “A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each swing of the ax, he is writing his signature on the face of the land”…

I wonder what signature some of our state level elected leaders are writing on the face of our Hoosier woods.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue, check out the Indiana Forest Alliance or if you’d like to know more about the similar issues with Federal public lands, contact my friends at Backcountry Hunters and Anglers for their eye opening information. Both groups can be found online.

– David Hewitt