Photograph by Steven Higgs

The backcountry area of Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood State Forest, designed to give visitors a wilderness experience, is at risk and needs public support.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 23, hikers will hit the trails to protest the state's plan to cut down trees in the backcountry by participating in a "walk-in."

Walkers who are concerned with protecting the backcountry from logging can walk as long and as far as they want, but between 1 and 4 p.m. the Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) will have maps, information, petitions and water at the parking lot for the Low Gap trail through the backcountry.

Lucille Bertuccio, from the Center for Sustainable Living, will lead a wildflower walk from 2 to 4 p.m.

According to Rhonda Baird, director of the IFA, "The backcountry was created by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in 1981, ... but now they want to [log] it just as heavily as the rest of the forest system. The only thing they are legally prohibited from doing is creating clearcuts -- which the Daniels administration has defined as 10 acres or larger."
"Located between the two state forests and in forest contiguous with Brown County State Park, Deam Wilderness Area in the Hoosier National Forest and private forests, this area plays an important role for wildlife -- particularly species that require a deep forest canopy." - Rhonda Baird, IFA director
The backcountry area of Morgan-Monroe State Forest has been sitting on the edge of the chopping block for over a year as the Indiana Division of Forestry makes plans to sell timber from most of the 3,100 acres, only 2 percent of the 150,000-acre state forest system. What's more, the agency plans to return every 20 years to each sale site and chop down trees that have matured during that time.

The backcountry, Baird says, "is one of the most strategic places in the state forest system. ... Because it hasn't been subjected to commercial logging since the mid-1970s, this area could move toward late successional forest. It could teach us what Indiana's forests would become with minimal management interference.

"Located between the two state forests and in forest contiguous with Brown County State Park, Deam Wilderness Area in the Hoosier National Forest and private forests, this area plays an important role for wildlife -- particularly species that require a deep forest canopy. Division of Forestry management practices over the past several years favor early successional habitat and disturbance throughout the forest."

Last year State Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) introduced legislation (HB 1550 during the January session) that prohibited commercial activity -- including logging -- in the backcountry.

The IFA, which is sponsoring the walk-in, is working closely with state representatives Pierce and Ralph N. Foley (R-Martinsville) to permanently designate the backcountry area off limits to commercial logging. Many area residents are upset that the amount of timber harvested from the nearby state forests has diminished their quality of life and enjoyment of the public forest.

A statewide leader in forest protection and restoration of public lands, IFA is opposed to all commercial activity in public forests.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.

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To reach the backcountry from Bloomington, go north on Old S.R. 37, east on Anderson Road, north on Low Gap Road. The parking lot for the trail is on the right. You can locate these roads on Google maps or view the maps on fliers posted around town. There are also maps on flyers posted around town. You can obtain a copy of a flier from ifa.director@gmail.com.