This Eastern box turtle was recovered after being injured in a fire.

Fires ravage the woods and wildlife, homes and very fabric of life in Australia.

Images of scarred koalas and horrifying statistics accompany daily, even hourly, updates and social media posts. The fires have destroyed 25 million acres of land and have killed at least 28 people, and they continue to burn, eliciting concern and donations worldwide.

As we take the time to care about Australia, and wonder how we can help, maybe we could take a moment to look a little closer to home, even here in Indiana, where Hoosier forests are being threatened as well.

The Indiana Forest Alliance is asking Indiana residents to make their voices heard and immediately begin calling and writing legislators that can stop wholesale logging and burning of the Hoosier National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with a plan to log 4,375 acres, repeatedly burn 13,500 acres, build 16.4 miles of logging roads, and apply herbicides on 1,970 acres all concentrated on ridges, slopes and valleys in the Hoosier National Forest that drain into Monroe Reservoir.

“This proposed Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project will increase sediment runoff into the South Fork of Salt Creek, which is already polluting Monroe Reservoir, the sole drinking water supply for 120,000 people in Monroe and surrounding counties, with too much sediment,” said a news release from the IFA. “It will cause repeated closures and reroutes of the Knobstone Trail, as well as popular horseback riding trails. The project will kill or harm at least seven species of federally or state listed bats and other birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles that are state endangered or listed as species of special concern in Indiana.”

Trees and natural vegetation hold the earth in place and add nutrients. When they are ripped from the ground, the soil is left unprotected and can be washed away with the rain.

In its present unlogged and unburned condition, the Houston South project area supports seven species of bats that are federally endangered or threatened, under consideration for this listing or state endangered or species of special concern. State counts indicate that White-Nose Syndrome, a disease that attacks cave-hibernating bats, has killed hundreds of thousands of Indiana bats and 90% or more of northern long-eared, little brown and tri-colored bats since it arrived in Indiana in 2009.

By burning and logging during the summer, the project will cut down, burn up and engulf in smoke maternity roosting trees for these bats, killing the mothers and their pups. Other animals that will likely be burned up or adversely affected by the logging and road construction include the state endangered timber rattlesnake and cerulean warbler and species of special concern that live or nest on or near the forest floor such as Eastern box turtle, smoky and pygmy shrew, rough green snake, worm eating warbler, black and white warbler and hooded warbler.

The IFA dos not agree with the USFS’ claim that timber harvesting is better for regenerating a more natural oak and hickory forest in that location.

Logging is an economic enterprise. It is about someone making money, not about nature.

Though there may be some benefits to rejuvenating a forest with cutting and burning, that process when conducted over many acres disrupts an already functioning ecosystem. And with development burgeoning across the state, there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to live.

Outdoor recreation is one of the fastest-growing components of Indiana’s tourism industry, generating some $15.7 billion in annual consumer spending and creating 143,000 jobs in Indiana, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. This project will consume a significant part of the most popular horseback riding area in the Hoosier National Forest.

The USFS is required to consider alternatives to the proposed action at Houston South.

“The USFS has not demonstrated that they considered the impacts on municipal water supplies,” said the IFA. “However, other than taking ‘no action,’ the USFS has not considered any alternatives to this drastic plan.”

The IFA urges the public to contact officials and show support for Indiana’s dwindling natural resources. Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, heads Indiana’s Natural Resources Committee.

IFA suggests reaching out to the following officials:

• Gov. Eric Holcomb, Office of the Governor, Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797; 317-232-4567

• Sen. Mike Braun, 374 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; 202-224-4814

• Sen. Todd Young, 185 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; 202-224-5623

• Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, 1641 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515; 202-225-5315

• Kathleen Atkinson, Regional Forester for the Eastern Region, U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Regional Office, 626 E. Wisconsin Ave.; Milwaukee, WI 53202; 414-297-3600

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