A devastating pestilence has invaded our beloved state forests. It is not an exotic insect, virus or blight. It is our invasive governor and his misdirected Department of Natural Resources. They have increased logging in our forests by 500 percent. Some of that logging involves clearcuts, where all trees are removed in 10-acre swaths. The backcountry of Morgan-Monroe State Forest, where logging had been off limits for decades, is now being carved up.

Our forests are areas of surpassing beauty that are greatly appreciated by Hoosier families for hiking, camping and personal reflection. They are sacred places that all citizens are free to visit to escape the harshness of our chaotic world. Our forests are some of the rarest and most valuable refuges in our state.

Income from the sale of these majestic trees amounts to a shockingly tiny part of Indiana's general revenues, about 0.02-0.03 percent. The value of these trees to our citizens, when they are left standing, is far greater and is never-ending. Decimating the natural wonders of our state cannot be considered a gain except on the narrowest of balance sheets.

The forests are much more than the number of board feet that can be hauled out of them. They are complex communities of trees, birds, wildflowers, insects, mosses, ferns, amphibians, mammals and much more. Many species require large tracts of undisturbed forest to thrive. Logging impacts this entire ecosystem. All these consequences must be included in any fair balance sheet of forest uses. Beauty, awe and wonder are not luxuries. If we degrade and devalue all that is beautiful and glorious, all that is humbling and inspiring, we diminish our humanity.

And where are our trees going? While some may be used in the States, many become expensive furniture or floors for corporate offices, here and abroad. More are cut up to make shipping pallets that are used once and thrown away.

Eighty-eight percent of all Indiana's forests are privately owned. Those forests can supply lumber for most of our needs. In fact, without the competition from state trees, private timber would be more valuable. State forests have other, better uses.

Indiana is 46th among the states in recreational land per capita. About 19 percent of Indiana is forested, and only 1 percent of that is state-owned. A small fraction is mature forest. These forests belong to us, the citizens of Indiana. They were not set aside to be exploited for political or commercial profiteering.

Even without excessive logging the future of our forests are uncertain. Climate change caused by global warming is now threatening our forests. While the extent and degree of those impacts are uncertain, climate change and other factors will almost certainly increase forest damage due to invasive plants and insects, drought, temperature shifts and storm damage.

In a perverse double whammy on the forests, the cutting of trees worldwide is the single greatest source of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming that in turn further degrades the forests.

Opening up the forests with increased logging at this time in our history is irresponsible management. The most diverse, healthy forests in the world were found here before they were managed. The best management policy for our state forests now may be no management at all, just careful monitoring.

We cannot measure our success as a community, state or as a civilization by what we have destroyed, but rather by what we have nurtured and protected that enriches the earth, by what will sustain future generations. This does not mean that we do not use the forests, but that we use them wisely and with deep respect.

Why is this outrageous exploitation of our natural resources allowed? Unfortunately, many Hoosiers are not even aware that their forests are being used in this way. Citizens must say to their elected representatives: "Wait a minute; this is wrong. Why aren't you doing something to save these priceless assets!"

It is time for an immediate, emergency moratorium on all commercial logging in our state forests. We need an honest, democratic debate on the best uses of these few remaining state treasures. When people know the whole, undistorted truth, they usually do the right thing. If many, many citizens across the state were to contact their elected representatives and ask them to stop the theft of the public's wealth, it could be done. Please, do your share to help save our forests, before it is too late.

Thomas Tokarski can be reached at .