While much discussion and debate has occurred regarding the recent large-scale and complete removal of trees on Brown County-owned land along SR 135, I would offer a perspective through the scientific lens of professional forestry.
The term “clearcut” has often been used to describe this event. However, that does not seem to have been its purpose. A true clearcut is a harvest method sometimes used by professional foresters to regenerate a stand of trees while also providing diverse wildlife habitats across a given landscape. The Society of American Foresters (SAF) has a clear position which states:
The SAF supports the use of well proven silvicultural methods, including clearcutting, to meet diverse forest management objectives, such as efficient utilization of commercial timber and assurance of prompt and successful regeneration following timber harvest or natural disturbances. While not appropriate for every situation, clearcutting is an effective tool to regenerate shade-intolerant tree species, control forest insects and pathogens, improve the productivity of managed forests, and provide early-seral forest habitat that is important for a variety of wildlife species. Oversight by professional foresters and other natural resource specialists and adherence to contemporary sustainable forest management standards can ensure that clearcutting is applied in a manner that addresses environmental, economic, and social concerns.
This activity was intended to create a scenic overlook. It was not a sustainable forestry practice, and should not be considered a “clearcut”. Rather, it was intended to convert a forested area to another use. If allowed to regenerate naturally or, if needed, supplanted with additional trees, this site could have the potential for providing early successional wildlife habitat (especially for some declining species of birds) of which Indiana public and private lands are lacking.
Another point to note is that a professional forester was not consulted in the planning or execution of this activity. While Brown County government might not likely employ a professional forester due to its small land acreage, private consulting foresters are readily available to assist. If their services had been employed, the breakdown in communication that was admitted to by the parties participating in this event would have been averted. Such services could and should have been sought in this case if sustainable forestry had been the goal. The SAF position on this states:
SAF recognizes that many public forest management functions and services are performed by independent contractors, consultants, or other vendors as a result of constrained budgets and other pressures. Although it is recognized that there may be cost savings and other efficiencies gained through contract services, decisions on when, where, and to what extent such contract services are deployed should remain a responsibility of, and be performed under the direction of, career natural resource professionals who are responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s public forestlands, without undue encumbrances of additional bureaucratic processes. Where contract services include professional or technical forest management functions, SAF believes that it is essential that they be provided by natural resource professionals who adhere to the high standards of professional ethics and practice expected of all natural resource managers and scientists.
Lessons can be learned from this unfortunate event. While appropriate timber harvesting is vital to the health of Indiana’s forests and economy, and serves to enhance wildlife habitat and (at times) scenic viewsheds, professional foresters are trained to assure public and private landowners’ goals will be successfully met.
Chair, Indiana Society of American Foresters