LAGRO — Salamonie River State Forest is 850 acres preserved by the state of Indiana southwest of Fort Wayne, between Huntington and Wabash.
The Friends of Salamonie Forest and Indiana Forest Alliance have petitioned for a hearing to present testimony for protection of the well established timber stands from being logged for economic development by the state. They are asking that the forest be redesignated as a state park, which might save it from wholesale harvests.
The petition, with 871 signatures on it, was delivered to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office and the Indiana Natural Resources Commission on April 23.
A request for information on the status of the hearing was not answered by Indiana Department of Natural Resources representatives Friday.
Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, who heads the senate’s Natural Resources Committee, said her committee has never heard a request for a state forest to be turned into a state park. She said a citizens’ petition given to the NRC would typically be remanded to the commission’s Division of Hearings.
“It starts the process,” Glick said.
She said the NRC is a “fantastic organization” made up of diverse representatives. It is an autonomous board that addresses topics pertaining to the Indiana DNR. NRC members include DNR Director Cameron Clark, heads of three other state agencies — environmental management, tourism development and transportation — six citizens appointed by the governor on a bipartisan basis, chair of the NRC’s advisory council Patrick Early, and the president of the Indiana Academy of Science, Alice Heikens, a professor at Franklin College who teaches biology, botany and conservation courses.
The NRC’s next meeting will be May 21 at 10 a.m. at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.
Salamonie River State Forest was established in the mid-1930s when local people assisted the state in purchasing the hilly land and bluffs along the Salamonie River. The riverside land was eroding and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted trees and created recreation facilities.
The forests of Salamonie and Frances Slocum are maturing and their characteristics indicate some stands approaching old growth conditions within the next three decades, says a case study that accompanies the petition, provided with the online version of this story at kpcnews.com.
Of Indiana’s original 20 million acres of forest, fewer than 2,000 acres of old-growth forests remain intact. Most of those sites are protected as nature preserves, including Steuben County’s McClue Nature Preserve.
A feature of an old-growth forest is mixed hardwood species, large old trees with sweeping canopies and younger trees that will take over when, after hundreds of years, the old tall trees die. Shorter, 20- to 30-foot understory trees protect the shrubs, herbs, wildflowers and mosses of the forest floor.
Those at a meeting Wednesday at the Aboite branch of Allen County Public Library noted concern about invasive plant species taking over the logged forests after large machinery tears up the ground and removes trees that once blocked direct sunlight.
The DNR wants to cull 100 acres of Salamonie River State Forest plus another 100 acres in the Frances Slocum State Forest, adjacent to Salamonie.
At Salamonie, the plan is to take one third of the trees in 100 acres in the heart of the forest, including all of the sycamore, ash, elm, Kentucky coffee tree, aspen, red maple, bitternut, hickory, black cherry and cottonwood.
The trees are already marked for harvest and the state is poised to take bids from loggers.
The petition asks that Salamonie River and Frances Slocum state forests be redesignated as state parks. The petitioners have requested a hearing to allow testimony from those who are concerned about logging and have asked that any upcoming timber sales be put on hold while the petition is being considered.
“People are passionate about these areas,” said Kathryn Lisnicchia of the Friends of Salamonie Forest.
Marketing material provided by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says “the sensitive areas of Salamonie State Forest, where not disturbed, contain high quality natural communities that are of state significance and are unique for northern Indiana. These communities, with their high diversity of plants, as well as the occurrence of species of state rarity and those on the edge of their range, combine to form an area worthy of protection. The protection of these areas is a primary management concern.”
Salamonie River and Frances Slocum forests are the only state forests north of Indianapolis.
“Hollow trunks and tree holes in these woods provide habitat for squirrels, raccoons, bats, wood ducks, woodpeckers and a myriad of other birds and mammals. Dead trees and snags remain standing until a windstorm or other disturbance sends them crashing to the ground,” says IDNR forest literature. “Each log becomes its own mini-ecosystem, complete with a teeming array of termites, ants, beetles, centipedes, millipedes and other invertebrates. These in turn become food for salamanders, shrews, mice and other denizen of the forest floor. The rotting wood is further broken down by fungi and bacteria. The wood is gradually converted to humus, replenishing the soil and completing the natural nutrient cycle.”
Indiana has around 4.9 million acres of forestland, of which, 84 percent is privately owned, 8 percent is owned by state and local government and 7.5 percent is owned by the federal government.
In February, Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch announced an expansion in tree harvesting. The Indiana Hardwood Strategy was commissioned by the Indiana DNR, the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture; published at isda.in.gov/hardwoods.
A petition to support efforts to protect the forests from logging is at upperwabash.net/petition. The next meeting of the Friends of Salamonie Forest is Wednesday May 29, 6-8:30 p.m., at the Aboite Branch of the Allen County Public Library, 5630 Coventry Lane, Fort Wayne. More about the effort can be found at friendsofsalamonieforest on Facebook.