Young Forests for Future Hoosiers

The following letter to the editor, signed by 14 scientists working on the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment, appeared in the Lafayette, Indiana, Journal and Courier on October 13, 2017

A recent letter (“Timber harvest not needed for forest health”, Oct. 3) from the Indiana Forest Alliance made some claims with which we agree.

As scientists who work on the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment, we agree that healthy forests are defined ecologically and provide numerous benefits for biodiversity, the environment and Hoosiers. We also agree that forests should be managed for multiple purposes.

We are passionate about forests in Indiana. Indeed, we have devoted our careers to the study and promotion of healthy forest ecosystems, both of which require a long-term perspective and recognition of the role that human disturbance has played in the history of our forests.

American woodcock

American woodcock, which breed in Indiana, require forest of varying ages for feeding, nesting, and brood rearing. Woodcock will home in on areas of young forest created through habitat management by agencies and private landowners./Eric Dresser

During the century following statehood, Hoosiers cleared forests to create farms, reducing forests from 19.4 million acres to 1.5 million acres. Much of the state forestland we walk through today was degraded farmland abandoned during the Great Depression. Fortunately, our ancestors understood that forests are resilient, and they had the vision to establish with these lands a system of managed state forests. Since then, the forests have regrown and the percent of forestland in Indiana has tripled, from less than 7 percent to over 21 percent.

Indiana Forest Alliance claims that our forests are a rich mosaic of different age classes, and that forest management is not needed to maintain forest health because natural disturbances are sufficient. We disagree, as do multiple data-driven, peer-reviewed studies. After decades of relying primarily on natural disturbance, young forests are badly under-represented. Nearly 60 percent of forestland in our region is 40 to 80 years old, but only 8 percent of forestland is 20 years or younger.

Young forests are needed as habitat for dozens of wildlife species and to reverse the ongoing shift in forest composition from oak to maple. Forest management, including prescribed fire and regeneration harvests, is critical to reliable creation of young forest, promotion of biodiversity, and the future health of Indiana forests.

For the past 11 years, scientists from seven universities have worked on the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment to study the effects of timber harvests and prescribed fire on forest ecosystems in southern Indiana. Our goal is to maintain diverse forests for future generations by using science to inform forest management decisions. Hoosiers deserve healthy forests, which requires creation of young forests now and in the future.

Signed: Kamal Islam, Ball State University; Tim Carter, Ball State University; Keith Summerville, Drake University; Joy O’Keefe, Indiana State University; Joe Duchamp, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Brian MacGowan, Purdue University; Charlotte Owings, Purdue University; Jeff Holland, Purdue University; Jeff Riegel, Purdue University; John B. Dunning, Purdue University; Mike Jenkins, Purdue University; Mike Saunders, Purdue University; Rob Swihart, Purdue University; Marc Milne, University of Indianapolis

(See more articles about young forest projects in Indiana.)