Twelve Bloomington citizens protested the May 26 sale of timber in the Monroe-Morgan State Forest Backcountry Area, which Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA) member David Haberman called a “complete betrayal of what was set up by the state to protect this wilderness area.”

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) established the Backcountry Area in 1981 to provide a backcountry wilderness experience for Indiana citizens. The intent, according to IFA's Website, "was to show that the state could protect areas just as well as land that was put into federal Wilderness Area protection. … The particular area they intend to put on sale on Thursday contains stands of the largest and oldest trees in the Backcountry Area.”

"It is outrageous that an area set aside, clearly intended to represent wilderness, is being commercially logged." - Chris DoranWhile state law enforcement took their photos and license plate numbers, the protesters were prevented from reaching sale site, where 163 acres of trees were auctioned off to the highest bidders. They listened to the sale via walkie-talkie from a cemetery parking lot.

Jim Allen, property manager at Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood and State Forests, denied that the Backcountry Area had ever been set aside from logging.

“Logging is permitted, and that logging, if possible, is to be done using existing roads,” he said.

Allen noted that there had been protests regarding these proposed sales a couple of years ago. “We’re going to proceed with the sale and decide what to do after that,” he said.

As a discussion proceeded, Allen said several times that the agency's “mission is to manage the forest.” Proper logging, he said, has three components: Log trees before they mature, log to free up space for other trees to grow and get economic benefit.

“I do think these forests are pretty resilient,” he said.

Rachel Irvine, a senior in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, asked about the different types of trees in the sale area and the large percentage of oaks marked for harvest.

“We are working on the State Habitat Conservation Plan,” Allen said. “We’re providing a steady, consistent supply for the logging interest.”

Hardwood trees like oaks are worth the most, he said.

When asked if the state was protecting the oaks by cutting them down, Allen replied, “Twice as many black oaks are mature. … We harvest them before we lose them.”
"If this logging proceeds, we will have lost an opportunity to allow this forest to return to the forest our forefathers knew, providing people, including children, to enjoy, and be moved by it." - Brian Richwine
IFA Director Brian Richwine and others noted that part of the aesthetic appeal of the forest is the old, mature trees.

Someone asked if anyone would enjoy looking at the stumps in the woods. Allen replied, “Some people might.”

The acreage for sale, he said, was “off the beaten path” and “90 percent of people will never know it has been harvested.”

Morgan Eldridge asked, “What about the animals who live there?”

Allen said there were complex, ongoing relationships that occur in forests between the creatures, trees and plants that exist there.

Lauren Haffner asked if any future sales were planned. “Yes,” Allen answered, “in June.”

After the sale was complete, Richwine said, “It is disappointing and sad. If this logging proceeds, we will have lost an opportunity to allow this forest to return to the forest our forefathers knew, providing people, including children, to enjoy, and be moved by it.”

Elisia Feliciano said, “I’m sad we didn’t get to the office, but I’m glad to see the turnout of Indiana residents who want to keep the forests the way they are.”

Chris Doran said, “It is outrageous that an area set aside, clearly intended to represent wilderness, is being commercially logged.”

Joseph Cross said, “I’m here to show support for all parties involved, especially our future generations, and I would like nothing more than to heal the earth before it’s too late.”

Ryan Conway said, “This is my first conservancy protest, and I feel like what I have learned is that we need the protest to be collaborative, the people we approached seemed most receptive when we were sensitive to their experiences.”

“I just think that every time we come out here, we have the opportunity to bridge the gap, to learn about the area and to solidify our connection with nature,” Eldridge said.

David Stewart can be reached at daestewa@indiana.edu.