Photograph by Steven Higgs

The Indiana Forest Alliance is celebrating backcountry in Indiana with a series of events in April called Wild Indiana. They will include an April 20 discussion on the Deam Wilderness Area at the Lilly Library, featuring legendary Indiana environmentalists Jeffrey Stant, Bill Miller, Bill Hayden and Jeffrey St. Clair.

The history of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area southeast of Bloomington can be officially traced to 1964 and the Wilderness Act. Or to 1973, when Congress directed the U.S. Forest Service to examine every acre of the National Forest System in the east for wilderness potential. Or to 1982, when Congress created the 12,982-acre Deam.

More compelling, however, are the stories of the extraordinary people who made the wilderness happen, some of whom will gather at 5:30 p.m., April 20, at the Lilly Library on the Indiana University campus, to remember a time when reasonable citizens could effect positive change for the benefit of all. Participants who will share Deam Wilderness memories include Jeffrey Stant, Bill Miller, Bill Hayden and Jeffrey St. Clair.

The discussion will be part of Wild Indiana, a month-long series of events organized by the Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) to celebrate and promote wildness in Indiana.

The event will commemorate the IFA’s donation of Deam Wilderness papers collected by Claude Ferguson, who served as Hoosier National Forest supervisor when the process of designating part of the forest as federally protected “wilderness” began.

After he was fired by the U.S. Forest Service for publicly opposing the agency’s 1974 plan to build off-road vehicle (ORVs) trails in the Hoosier, Ferguson was a central advocate for establishing the wilderness area. After Ferguson's death in 2006, outdoor writer Don Jordan honored the magnitude of his contributions in a column in the Bloomington Herald-Times: “It is not often that a giant lives and dies among us,” he wrote. “We lost one on June 15 when A. Claude Ferguson of Bedford died at age 83.”

In a news release, IFA president David Haberman said the Ferguson files and the recollections to be shared at this session could provide inspiration and ideas for expanding the Deam Wilderness, an IFA goal. Haberman will moderate the session at the Lilly.

After the one-hour discussion in the Slocum Room of the Lilly (1200 E. Seventh St., next to the IU Auditorium), the library will host a reception, with an exhibit of selected items from the Deam Wilderness collection.

IFA member Carol Polsgrove, an IU professor emerita and historian, highlighted the Ferguson documents' value in the IFA release.

“These files provide a valuable case study of how public and commercial institutions, politicians and citizens’ groups interacted over a proposal to change the status of public lands,” she said.

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The Deam Wilderness history predates all of those involved in the Lilly discussion except Ferguson, who was the Hoosier supervisor in 1973, when Congress passed the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) Act.


Courtesy photo

Indiana native, author and CounterPunch co-editor Jeffrey St. Clair will speak about wilderness and grassroots organizing at the Monroe County Public Library on April 13, followed by a reception at Boxcar Books.

The 200,000-acre Hoosier stretches, in four separate sections, from the southern shores of Lake Monroe to the Ohio River shoreline in Perry County. It is part of the National Forest System and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 had protected millions of acres of pristine land in the West from human asssult under its definition of wilderness -- “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

But little land in the overly developed East met this standard. And Congress passed RARE to identify lands suitable for permanent protection in the Eastern Wilderness Act (EWA) of 1975.

The RARE process recommended 15,000 acres in the Hoosier National Forest. But the plan became ensnared in controversy after the Indiana Public Interest Research Group (InPIRG) proposed the backwoods area be expanded to 32,000 acres, called the Nebo Ridge Wilderness Study Area.

The InPIRG proposal included private property scattered throughout Jackson and Brown counties, where landowners organized an opposition group called Citizens Concerned about the Nebo Ridge Area (CCNRA). Bill Miller was among those landowners, and his initial involvement in the wilderness was in opposition through the CCNRA.

The controversy over the Nebo Ridge proposal kept any Hoosier landscape out of the Eastern Wilderness Act.

Jeff Stant was a college student at IU studying biology in 1977 when he attended a wilderness debate in Bloomington. He immediately got involved through the Bloomington-based Uplands Group Sierra Club. At the same time, Bill Hayden, a Lawrence County teacher, was a forest activist with the Izaak Walton League and Sierra Club’s state chapter.

The groups reached a 15,000-acre compromise called the Salt Creek Wilderness Area, which removed the controversial private lands from the InPIRG proposal, and Miller joined the wilderness coalition.

The Salt Creek proposal, however, included land owned and managed for wildlife by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which objected to its inclusion.

The Deam Wilderness, sans the DNR lands, was established as part of a second congressional study called RARE II in 1982.

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St. Clair was not directly involved in the wilderness struggle, but his forest activism had traditions rooted in Ferguson’s final days with the Forest Service.
"It is not often that a giant lives and dies among us. We lost one on June 15 when A. Claude Ferguson of Bedford died at age 83." - Outdoor writer Don Jordan, June 2006, Bloomington Herald-Times
In 1974, the Forest Service proposed building 66 miles of off-road-vehicle (ORV) trails on two sections of the Hoosier National Forest, one in the north and one in the south. After Ferguson was fired for opposing them, he joined forces with the Izaak Walton League, which had taken the ORV plan to court.

Congress passed the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) in 1976. And the next year, a federal judge banned ORVs on the Hoosier until the Forest Service issued a land-management plan for it, as required by NFMA.

The Forest Service released the Hoosier plan in 1985, again proposing ORV trails in the northern and southern sections of the forest.

St. Clair lived in Brown County, where the Forest Service planned the northern trail system. He organized ForestWatch, an activist group to oppose the trails and the broader Hoosier plan, which called for clearcutting 81 percent of the forest over the next 120 years.

ForestWatch joined with Protect Our Woods, another group that organized around the proposed southern trails in Orange County, and the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) in Indianapolis to fight the plan. When the plan came out in 1985, Stant was the first and longest-serving HEC director, with Miller serving on the board.

The opposition forced the Forest Service to withdraw the 1985 plan. HEC hired St. Clair to write the “Conservationist’s Alternative” plan for Hoosier management, which was included in the final plan, released in 1990.

With the support of then-Supervisor Frank Voytas, the St. Clair-authored alternative was adopted in 1991 and hailed as one of the most environmentally sensitive in the nation. It included no ORV trails or clearcutting.

St. Clair, who lives in Oregon City and is an author and co-editor of the online news magazine CounterPunch, will also speak on the Wilderness Movements in Indiana and Grassroots Activism at 7 p.m. on April 13 at an IFA event in the Monroe County Public Library Auditorium. He will speak to classes at the IU School of Journalism during his time in Indiana.

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.


For more information on Wild Indiana month
Indiana Forest Alliance
Brian Richwine -- brichwin@indiana.edu
Carol Polsgrove -- ccpolsgrove@gmail.com