Indiana’s Working Forests

Indiana’s Working Forests


(Birds calling) ♫ Dobro Music ♫ A century ago, Indiana’s once-lush forests
were reduced to a few trees left in abandoned farm fields and cut-over land. Clearing the land for crops and a thirst for
timber to build a growing nation took a heavy toll on our forests. Fortunately, this unchecked removal was recognized
by the turn of the 20th century, and efforts toward recovery were initiated. In 1901, the State Board of Forestry was established
to identify the best methods to revitalize and manage our forests. In 1903, legislation was passed to establish
State Forests. That same year, about 2,000 acres in Clark
County were purchased to serve as a forest laboratory, demonstration area, and tree seedling
nursery. Today this property is known as Clark State
Forest and covers 25,000 acres. The State Forest system has grown to about
156,000 acres and comprises 13 State Forests and two State Recreation Areas. Most of the land acquired by the Division
of Forestry in the 1920s and ’30s bore little resemblance to the healthy forests we see
today. That’s because professional foresters used
intensive management practices to transform the abused lands into productive forests. Pine trees were planted to reclaim the eroded
and nutrient-depleted soils, followed by the planting of hardwoods to restore the native
ecosystem. Without such efforts, the recovery process
would have taken much longer. Wildlife species also benefited from this
management. In 1903, white-tailed deer and wild turkey
were given year-round protection because of their scarcity. Today they are plentiful, along with countless
other species that depend on the forest for survival. However, as Indiana’s forests age, species
that depend on young forests, such as ruffed grouse, are declining. As much as we appreciate the productive aspects
of our forests, they probably are best recognized as places to play and relax, to hike, hunt,
fish, camp, and renew our spirits. Statewide, total public and private Indiana
forestland has increased to more than 4.9 million acres. With the continued scientific management of
our state forests and assistance to private landowners by professional foresters, we can
look forward to a future of healthy, productive forests. It’s a noble idea, maybe a grand idea, that
perhaps that if we left these forests alone that maybe someday they might return to the
same type of forests that were here before European settlement. And it’s a nice thought but what would happen
if we turned this forest loose today would not be able to develop into those same forests. Today’s management has changed because we’ve
went from a phase of allowing these systems to recover to the point that they can on their
own, to needing a little bit of help from us. That help comes in the form of timber harvesting. We can go out here and cut trees that will
benefit the trees that we leave behind. All throughout the understory here on the
ground are little oak seedlings. But, they’re not going to get enough sunlight
to survive much more than a year or two. If they do manage to survive they will eventually
get to a point to where they’re going to need more and more and more sun. And so, the only way to help these oak make
it up into the overstory is to manipulate this forest. To get a little more sun down here to encourage
them along that path. Timber harvesting has increased over the past
decade or two. But, this is a result of the forest that has
healed itself, that has matured. With maturity comes mortality. Timber harvests help regenerate the forests
by replacing mortality with new growth. And, even though we’ve increased the harvest
we’re still taking only less than 1% of the available trees in any given year. The annual growth of what’s left behind plus
new growth and seedlings and saplings easily out paces what is removed. Part of the decision making process that we
do, whether it’s during the inventory or the actual sale marking, is to determine which
trees would be marked and which trees would be left. We are selecting trees for harvest but we’re
also selecting trees to leave. We want to maintain our oaks and hickorys. In this case is an example of how the oak
was selected to leave to maintain a source of seed into the future. As well as good, well growing tree. While the lower grade tree has been selected
for harvest. The increased level of timber harvesting has
also become necessary in order to maintain a matrix of wildlife habitats for all species. We want to have old forest areas for species
that like mature forests and we also want early successional species to have their habitat
as well. However the most important thing is to keep
across the whole landscape of our forests a matrix of these. Where some areas you have mature forests adjacent
to openings. And this will provide the widest variety,
the greatest diversity, of wildlife habitat we can have. Today’s forestry, modern forestry, is very
much infused with the understanding of ecology, disturbance ecology. And, what foresters will often do is mimic
the effects of natural disturbance agents that have acted on that forest that their
working in. And the idea is there that were trying to
minimize to the greatest degree possible the amount of negative effects that we may have
on the wildlife species or the plant species of that forest. The Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment is a long
term scientific study of the effects of forest management practices on the flora and fauna. The study based in Morgan-Monroe State Forest
is nearly a decade into its 100-year research mission and already showing providing valuable
information. This data will be used to develop management
prescriptions to ensure that our forests remain productive and resilient. At the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment, I’m
looking at the post fledging association of mature forest birds with early successional
habitat. So, these clearcuts at the HEE were harvested
around 8 years ago. And now they’re perfect habitat for all kinds
of bird species. So there’s been a lot of research that shows
that biodiversity and species richness actually increase a lot after a harvest. Last year in our pilot season of this study
we captured about 60 different species in the clearcut. A large percentage of these birds were mature
forest species. So things like ovenbirds, wood thrush, scarlet
tanager, worm-eating warbler, black and white warbler, hooded warbler. We’re catching a lot of these, what have traditionally
been considered to be mature forest species, in this habitat. I guess trying to look at the big picture
whenever you have a multiple use area. Some uses will always impact on other uses. It’s inevitable. The forest are, the state forests are designed
to be multiple use. There is timber harvest. As I said, you can have some disagreements
on how that should be managed but that is part of the overall management scheme of the
state forest is to have timber harvests as well as the recreational use. The Division of Forestry really only has control
of 150,000 acres in the state. The secret to the whole thing is the public. If the public becomes educated and understands
that early successional forests are good for all wildlife and good for the forests. And we can get them to buy in on their own
lands perhaps we can get them to boost up some early successional forests that is not
public, but is privately owned. I work with the state forest managers on a
couple of properties in developing trails. And, so, I understand their you know they
have quite a diverse range of activities that they support from timber management, to studies,
to recreation. So, they have a pretty wide range of responsibilities
and activities on their property. For us forest management and increasing forest
management and habitat in particular to support wildlife is really a moral imperative. I mean, I just, for the State of Indiana and
for us to allow species to be extirpated on something we have the ability to control,
through forest management, is just morally inappropriate. The current Indiana Statewide Comprehensive
Outdoor Recreation Plan identifies nearly one million acres of public land available
for outdoor recreation, including State Forests. State Forests are the only public lands with
a legislative charge to actively manage for timber production. At the same time, more than 2,700 acres of
State Forests are set aside as nature preserves that are no-harvest areas. So are campgrounds and areas with infrastructure
and habitat critical to endangered species. The fact timber management, recreation and
wildlife habitat can mutually exist in the same landscape, while still maintaining healthy
watersheds, has been demonstrated for decades. Yes, Indiana’s State Forests are working
for the future . . . For the future of clean water and air; For the future of wildlife; For the future of recreational opportunities; The continued sustainable management of Indiana’s
state forests helps secure all of these benefits for generations to come. (Cerulean warbler calling)

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