A proposed forest management plan for thousands of acres in the Hoosier National Forest within the Lake Monroe watershed has prompted concerns about potential impact to the community’s primary drinking water source.

U.S. Forest Service officials hoped to assuage people’s concerns at an open house last week where experts addressed the need and scope of the project, as well as the findings in a draft environmental assessment for the project.

The Houston South restoration project is a forest management proposal for about 4,000 acres of land primarily located in the northwest corner of Jackson County and a small portion of northeast Lawrence County. The proposed project includes using various tree removal techniques such as clear cutting, selective harvesting, controlled burns and the use of herbicides. The goal is to improve forest health, improve wildlife habitat and expand oak and hickory ecosystems.

In addition, poorly maintained roads, trails, eroded areas and undersized or obsolete infrastructure prohibiting upstream movement of aquatic species may be repaired during the process.

The land is within the watershed of Lake Monroe, the primary drinking water source for Bloomington and Monroe County. Some residents at Wednesday’s open house were concerned about how the project could impact the lake’s water.

Sherry Mitchell-Bruker, president of Friends of Lake Monroe, said the group is worried about the cumulative effect that this project, and other activities at and near Lake Monroe, will have on the drinking water supply. Of particular concern is the growing presence of blue-green algae in the lake, she said.

Mitchell-Bruker said it is more difficult to work with private landowners to lessen the use of fertilizers that degrades water quality and encourages algae growth, which can be detrimental to the lake. However, the Hoosier National Forest is a public entity, and Mitchell-Bruker would like to see the agency set an example for others in ensuring their own activities do not negatively impact nearby water sources.

Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas said forest officials acknowledge the project is taking place within the Lake Monroe watershed. He said the boundaries of the project lie within a sub watershed — South Fork Salt Creek watershed — that feeds into Lake Monroe.

Hoosier National Forest hydrologist Chad Menke said for the Houston South project, forest officials will monitor the Salt Creek watershed instead of the entire Lake Monroe watershed.
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