Officials at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources claim their forest management strategy is science-based. This sentiment was echoed throughout their presentations during the Oct. 2 Interim Study Committee hearing about the management of Indiana's state forests.
While the DNR asserts commercial logging is the best path to build Indiana's future, small-business owners and experts in many disciplines traveled from all corners of the state to testify against the extensive logging proposals. One issue cited by those opposing logging in state forests is the absence of any mention of the climate crisis.
Climate change isn't just coming. It's here. The scientific community has moved on from debating whether climate change is happening to discussing how we should address it.
A changing climate threatens the livelihoods of Indiana farmers with increasingly inhospitable crop conditions due to heat waves, droughts and flooding. It threatens the ability of the next generations to enjoy our state's natural areas with the influx of invasive species and diseases that thrive in conditions created by a changing climate.
Numerous studies have detailed the urgency of climate change and the need for immediate action to address it. A ground-breaking study that hit the news in July detailed the role of trees in mitigating climate change, declaring the expansion of forests back to their historic ranges among the most promising paths to combat the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In the current DNR forest management strategy, state nature preserves, the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment control areas, and Indiana bat hibernacula are closed to commercial logging, which amounts to 2.9% of state forest acreage. The rest is fair game, even backcountry areas traditionally closed to logging.
The Department of Forestry defends the decision to log our state forests for profit with the assertion that Indiana has a shortage of young forest and that logging is the solution. It's true that young forest is ecologically valuable and that we don't have enough, but the DNR chooses to present our situation as though we do not also have a concerning lack of older-growth forest. Indiana has already lost more than 70% of its forests since pre-settlement times. We have a young forest shortage because we have a forest shortage as a whole.
A tree's carbon storage ability grows as the tree ages, meaning old forests hold more carbon than young forests. If we continue to log the remaining older-growth patches in our state forests, we will severely compromise the effectiveness of our most promising carbon sinks.
The conversation on management of our public lands needs to get away from the short-term monetary gain of timber sales to include how we are going to use our forests as a long-term technology to combat climate instability and create the bright future we all hope for Indiana and its young people. Once an old-growth forest is gone, it takes a century or more to get it back. Forest advocates recognize the need for timber harvests and young forest ecosystems, but they also recognize the need for undisturbed old forests.
The climate crisis has created a set of obstacles that we have never before faced in all of human history. Creating a future where the younger generations can thrive in Indiana doesn't just ask for us to act on climate change. It requires it. We cannot continue with the status quo when the status quo has led us to the door of a devastating climate emergency.
While many environmental advocacy groups oppose all logging on public lands, Indiana's forest advocates — among them Indiana Forest Alliance — have made concessions to work with the DNR's need for timber production and have asked legislators to adopt a 10% older growth set-aside in the state forests. We already have the technology to combat the climate crisis growing in our old forests. Let's stop pretending it's not needed.
Emma Steele is an intern with Indiana Forest Alliance and an organizer for Sunrise Movement Fort Wayne.