ORANGE COUNTY, Ind. — More than 100 people gathered at the Orange County Community Center in Paoli, Indiana Monday to protest a federal plan to regenerate Hoosier National Forest.
“The entire thing really revolves around the idea that you believe human beings can do a better job managing a forest than nature itself,” David Seastrom said, president of the board of the Indiana Forest Alliance.
The U.S. Forestry Service (USFS) wants to get rid of old oak trees and non-native pines across over 10,000 acres of the forest to make the forest more resilient for the future.
The Buffalo Springs Restoration project calls for logging, controlled burns, thinning, “herbicide treatment” and more throughout the forest.
The project specifically lists plans for 5,124 acres of land, but a map below the project summary also lists over 11,000 acres for “proposed prescribed burns.”
The USDA did not immediately respond to WHAS11’s request for more information about the total amount of acres impacted.
Andy Mahler with Protect Our Woods has been fighting this issue for many years. He says the project will log 5,000 acres and burn 15,000 acres.
“This is a backward-looking, short-sighted and ultimately self-serving project,” Mahler said.
Mahler is not against logging, but he would like to see it done on the private lands within the forest.
“We could have the public forest for recreation, water quality and those other benefits I mentioned, and have higher-quality, higher-value timber coming off private land,” Mahler said.
The USDA and USFS stand to gain money by logging within the forest. The agencies told our sister station WTHR in Indianapolis that number could be between $50,000 and $500,000.
Between 2 to 4 people out of about 37 who signed up for public comment did speak in support of the project. One was Wayne Werne.
“Oak is a disturbance-based species. It requires some level of disturbance to perpetuate it. So, the problem we face in forest management these days is we have a lot of large Oak trees, but we don’t have a lot of little oak trees,” Werne said.
Werne said he had one degree in wildlife management and another in forestry.
According to the USFS website, this project is in the “analysis” phase. But the website appears to be outdated, as it says, “The Buffalo Springs Restoration Project is now in the analysis stage. A draft environmental assessment is anticipated to be released for public review and comment around April 2022.”
Dr. Homer Wilkes, USDA undersecretary for natural resources was at the meeting, but his staff declined an interview, and we were told the person who oversees the project was not at the meeting.
WHAS11 sent an email to the project manager asking about the project status but has not heard back as of this writing.
Senator Mike Braun, R-Indiana, was also at the meeting, but his staff also declined to answer questions about the project, saying, “The senator has no stance on this project, he is just here to support a public engagement opportunity.”