Amid public concerns over timber management proposed for the Hoosier National Forest, several groups have come out in favor of the plans.

The American Bird Conservancy, the Indiana Forestry & Woodland Owners Association, the Indiana Society of American Foresters and the National Wild Turkey Federation have all submitted public comments or position statements supporting the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to undertake a number of management activities on 10,000 acres of the Hoosier National Forest just south of Brown County, including the logging of trees and occasional burns. The project’s aim is to maintain and restore sustainable ecosystems, according a draft report posted to the Hoosier National Forest’s website in November.

The American Bird Conservancy supports the project because of the “canopy gaps” it will create, and because it’s intended to promote the regeneration of oak trees which eastern forest birds depend upon. E.J. Williams, vice president for migratory birds, wrote a guest column in the Herald-Times (Bloomington) last fall explaining the group’s position.

The Indiana Society of American Foresters released a position statement on Jan. 26. Chair Travis Dunn wrote that the “current disturbance regime” levels in the NHF are “insufficient to maintain the diversity of forest age classes and cover types that are essential for ecosystem sustainability.” Without doing “even-aged management,” plants and animals that rely on “early-successional forest” and oak-hickory cover will continue to decline in the Hoosier National, he wrote.

The INSF also supports the use of herbicides to control invasive species, which is part of the Houston South plan.

The National Wild Turkey Federation posted to its website on Jan. 15 that it “strongly supports” the Houston South project.

“Currently, the Houston South Project Unit contains zero acres of forest in the zero- to nine-year age class,” said Ryan Boyer, NWTF district biologist, in the press release. “The Forest Plan recommends that forest should be comprised of 4 to 12 percent of young forest. A lack of forest age diversity, coupled with a lack of regeneration of oak and hickory species, is a direct threat to wildlife including the wild turkey.”

Boyer also pointed to a decline in the ruffled grouse population as a reason for creating more young forest, as they need ground nesting areas.

The Indiana Forestry & Woodland Owners Association submitted comments about the project through the Hoosier National Forest’s online portal during a 30-day comment period last August — along with 89 other people or groups, most of whom were speaking against the plan.

Groups that submitted comments against included the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter and Friends of Lake Monroe.

Reasons for opposing it included concerns about climate change; the project’s effect on drinking water in Lake Monroe (which is in the same watershed); and the visual disturbance it will create for hikers, neighbors and others who use it for recreational purposes, among other reasons.

One of those recreational users, Randall Pflueger of the Knobstone Hiking Trail Association, went before the Brown County Council on Jan. 23 to express his concerns about this plan.

In written comments to the project planners last August, he asked that a buffer region or “unmanaged corridor” of at least a quarter-mile be preserved around the trail, or at the very least, 50 feet. “Only with a corridor can the KT (Knobstone Trail) be preserved to provide ‘a safe, national-caliber hiking experience for those traveling the Knobstone,’” he wrote. He’s also worried that the Houston South Project will disrupt years’ worth of efforts to get trail sections connected and extended.

The Knobstone Trail is envisioned to stretch 160 miles, from Morgan-Monroe State Forest in the Martinsville area to Deam Lake near the Ohio River. The first 32-mile section opened in 1980. The entire 160-mile length also includes the Tecumseh Trail, which cuts through Brown County, and the Pioneer Trail, which is the section in the Hoosier National Forest that uses existing Hoosier National Forest trails.

In response to Pflueger’s concerns, Houston South Project leaders wrote that “the MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the Hoosier National Forest the Knobstone Hiking Trail Association does not obligate the Hoosier National Forest to consider scenery management along the Knobstone Trail any differently than any other trail on the forest.”

The Brown County Council did not pledge anything to Pflueger. The day after the meeting, he told the newspaper that he’d found someone local to represent the interests of the Knobstone Trail before legislators.

Hoosier National Forest District Ranger Michelle Padauni filed a report in November with a “finding of no significant impact” for the Houston South Project.

The U.S. Forest Service approved the project on Feb. 14, which means the project could begin at any time.
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