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Is Logging Liquidating Biodiversity in Indiana Forests?

An inventory of Indiana's older forests already has identified more than 1,250 species, with hundreds more still being tallied. (Indiana Forest Alliance)
An inventory of Indiana's older forests already has identified more than 1,250 species, with hundreds more still being tallied. (Indiana Forest Alliance)
November 16, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS - Scientists have spent the past few years in some of Indiana's older forests, trying to inventory flora, fauna and wildlife before the trees are cut down to be sold as timber. The Indiana Forest Alliance has gotten a two-year grant to expand the study.

The inventory, known as the Ecoblitz, has focused on a 900-acre tract of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest, and the new funding means scientists can add the Hoosier National Forest and one other state forest, yet to be determined. Jeff Stant, the alliance's executive director, warned that if the state continues to allow logging at its current pace, they'll cut through all the state forests in another 12 years.

"What they're doing is greatly reducing the age of our state forests, and opening up lots of deeper forests with roads and lots of clearings," he said. "We need to establish what actually is in our forests, and also how well these species are doing, before we just log through."

Proponents of logging have said a sustainable timber harvest benefits Indiana's economy and wildlife. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, 15 percent of logging revenue goes back into the counties where the trees come from, and much of that money is used for fire-control efforts.

However, Stant said logging is compromising the biodiversity of the forests, before even getting the full picture. He said the state should at least do wildlife inventories before cutting.

"It's just not doing it. It's not doing it under its Hardwood Ecosystem experiment, and it doesn't have any other programs to do it, and has never done it," he said. "So, we're taking up the reins and trying to do it ourselves, and we're working with scientists from 11 different colleges and universities across the state, and formally with state and environmental agencies, to get this done."

Stant said research just finished in the Yellowwood State Forest is an example of what over-logging may be taking away.

"We discovered a new species of spider that scientists are still naming in the forest, never before known to science," he said, "and a whole long set of specimens of fungi that we're having to figure out what species they are through DNA-sequencing measures in a laboratory."

The grant money was awarded by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and the Efroymson Family Fund.

More information is online at indianaforestalliance.org.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN