Groups seeking to conserve two of Indiana's state forests will bring their case to Fort Wayne on Wednesday during a meeting at the Aboite branch of the Allen County Public Library.
Friends of Salamonie Forest, working with the Indiana Forest Alliance, is seeking to have Salamonie River State Forest in Wabash and Huntington counties and Frances Slocum State Forest in Miami County designated state parks as part of a continuing effort to stop logging there.
The groups Thursday delivered petitions with 871 signatures proposing the change in management to the Indiana Natural Resources Commission in Indianapolis and the office of Gov. Eric Holcomb.
“To our knowledge, this petition to the INRC is unusual. We don't think anything like that has happened before,” said Angela Hermann, the alliance's director of communications.
Hermann said the request was made because in 2016, the two properties were moved from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' State Park and Reservoir Division to the Forestry Division.
That changed the forests from recreational properties to properties where timber could be harvested as a crop and sold.
State officials have developed plans to log about 30 percent of mature trees in the heart of Salamonie's 121 acres and 32 percent of mature trees on 97 acres of Frances Slocum, according to the conservation group.
Residents last year organized to try to stop the timbering.
Trees are now marked and the timbering will likely take place as soon as next month, said Hannah Berz of New Haven, a Friends of Salamonie member.
Wednesday's meeting will discuss the conservation groups' next steps.
“We are asking for this change in designation because publicly accessible forested areas intended for outdoor recreation are very limited in northern Indiana,” said Kathryn Lisinicchia, speaking on behalf of Friends of Salamonie.
The groups also hope to prevent environmental damage. They argue timbering would open up the forest floor to invasive species, cause erosion and disturb roosting habitats of bald eagles.
Although the forests are now being damaged by horseback riders, the state park would allow creation of regulated, designated areas, diminishing potential damage, Hermann said.
The groups would prefer the forests be allowed to continue to mature as old-growth forests, as few examples remain in northern Indiana, and go through natural succession.
Berz frequently hikes in the Salamonie forest. She said if the state's forest agencies were funded more robustly, perhaps environmental damage from logging could be averted.
“I think they (state forests) are undervalued,” she said. “To ruin the little bit we do have is heartbreaking.”
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the library at 5630 Coventry Lane. More information can be found on Facebook at Friends of Salamonie Forest.