Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Indiana Forest Cover

A couple of years ago, I heard a great discussion of Indiana's forest management on Homegrown on WFPL. Bernie Fischer, of the Indiana Division of Forestry, explained that, prior to American settlement and colonization, Indiana had 85% forest cover and 15% prairie. By about 1900, it had declined to 7% forest. It has since rebounded to 20% forest, but very little of that is remaining old-growth forest.

It's a pretty interesting factoid, and an interesting interview overall. Here are some quotes from the episode, which I believe is the December 18, 2004, show; their Web site has been redesigned, and I can't find the link to the original.
BOB HILL: Speaking of woods, we'll go across the river to Indiana briefly, and talk to the man up there who's in charge of the forests, and find out how people can take care of their lands, and all of this information will be applicable to Kentucky residents, too. ..To help us out, we're going to have Bernie Fischer; he's been director of the Indiana Division of Forestry since 1990. As such, the former Purdue University professor and extension forestry specialist supervises 150,000 acres of woodlands in the state's 13 state forests, and also supervises the state's 18 district foresters, who will provide on-site guidance to private landowners. He also supervises the state's two seedling nurseries, which annually sell six million tree seedlings and wildlife shrubs. Bernie, welcome to HomeGrown...
JENEEN WICHE: Before we get into more, like, forest-related things, define a forest for me? Are there issues in terms of old-growth forests versus newer forests versus like, a natural sort of forest, and a plantation type of forest, do you know what I mean? Like, what is truly a forest?

BERNIE FISCHER: We lump them all together, and any spot of ground out there that's probably over an acre of trees, we consider a forest. We assume it's not a place where you mow underneath, and you, it's more natural than that. But obviously, if someone plants a forest, and takes care of it and grows trees in a natural setting, we consider plantations just part of an extension of a natural forest.

WICHE: But aren't plantations...are those harvested?

FISCHER: O yeah, plantations. Now, people grow all kinds of forests for lots of reasons. And only one of those is harvesting. You know, recreation, hunting, all the other reasons. So thes forests have lots of reasons. But normally when people plant trees, they're planting them for a purpose, somewhere down the road, to harvest the trees.

BOB HILL: Bernie, we have a lot of forests in the southern part of the state here, but when you get above say, Seymour, off to Chicago, it's pretty much farmland. Now, was the state that way 300 years ago, or was all that land cleared at one point to make that farmland?

BERNIE FISCHER: It was mostly cleared. Indiana originally was 85% forested, about 15% prairie; and agriculture hit northern Indiana, and it was flat, and it was great soil, and they cleared it. And now we just have remnant woodlots here and there. The conservation reserve program has added some forest. We actually have counties way up in northern Indiana that are actually increasing in forest acreage as people are taking, say, marginal farmland and setting it aside and planting trees and putting it back in forest.

JENEENE WICHE: So how many acres in Indiana now is, the percentage is...

BERNIE FISCHER: Four and half million acres of forest land, about 20% of the state is forested. And that's from a low in the early 1900s of about 7%. So we've rebounded.

WICHE: So how much is state, how much is federal, how much is privately owned of those forests?

FISCHER: 85% is private, so private owners are the dominant player; federal's about 5%, state's about 5%, and other holdings, military and other things, are about 5%.
HILL: ...There's almost a poetic image to the old-growth forest, "Don't touch my land"; but that's pretty difficult for a private homeowner to do and see any success in a hundred years, isn't it?

FISCHER: We have basically almost no old-growth forest left. The reaction we get from a lot of landowners is, if a landowner owns, say, 40 acres, we find that landowner usually has a favorite tree or two out there that's already quite large, maybe at least an older tree, a hundred years old or whatever. And sometimes the landowner is most concerned about "What do I do to protect that tree? Not the whole woods, I like to go look at that particular tree. Because it's special: it's big, it has an odd shape, or whatever." So, you tend to, as a forester, very quickly pick up on that, and say "OK, I want to make sure I do something good for that area over there, for that tree, and the rest of the land has smaller trees on it, and they want them to be large over time. What can I do to make them grow faster?"

HILL: There is an old-growth grove up near Dale, the Pioneer Mothers Forest?

FISCHER: There's Pioneer Mothers...

HILL: It's a beautiful bunch of woods...

FISCHER: And there's a nice, there's also Donaldson's Woods at Spring Mill State Park; there are a few isolated holdings, but boy, they're small, and they're really rare and hard to find. But yeah, there are a few out there. There's also a few in Kentucky I've heard about, I can't give you off the top of my head, but you've got a few in Kentucky, too.

WICHE: So when you all go in to assist the private forest owners, landowners, is there also an understanding of the rest of the ecosystem in the forest, when you suggest certain types of management practices?

FISCHER: Yeah, we're always thinking about water quality, because forests are the best protectors of water. So if you're going to put in a road system, if you're going to do a timber harvest, we want to make sure that we protect the water, and usually we do that through what we call "best management practices". And those are generally so you keep ground disturbance to a minimum, and you direct water flows away from streams, so that the soil doesn't get into streams. A lot of landowners, their number one goal, when you ask them what their goal is, and they'll say "I want more wildlife". So you have to ask them, well, "What kind of more wildlife". But wildlife is, it really is an interest. And generally if you want wildlife, you want a variety of habitats. You want some big trees in one area, you want small trees in another area, maybe a brushy area, so that you get a variety of wildlife. Because wildlife for a lot of people means birds, and different birds like different kinds of habitat. So it's all-encompassing, and in fact, many landowners, if you have them list their goals, wildlife will be first, aesthetics will be second, hiking or whatever, which relates to those first two, might be third, and then maybe timber harvesting is fourth or fifth. So we are generally not talking about timber first. But we do talk about that too, because a lot of the landowners will say, "Yeah, but someday, my son's going to go to college, and I might need a little extra revenue, can I do things right?" And most landowners want to do things right.

Fischer also discusses the procedures for helping private landowners manage their land, from a state's perspective. The foresters will meet landowners on the site and provide advice based on their goals, although long-term management for timber harvesting needs private foresters. He notes that as little as 10 acres may be sufficient for timber management and discusses the process of timber sales and harvesting on private land.

No comments:

Post a Comment