PERU – Parts of Frances Slocum State Forest are set to be logged as part of a plan by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to restore native hardwood trees at the site.
A 91-acre tract that runs between the Mississinewa River and the forest’s access road has been pegged for the project as part of a resource management guide completed by the DNR last year. A draft of the guide was submitted in March for 30 days of public comment.
Now, DNR officials are moving forward with plan, which includes a timber harvest followed up with other steps aimed at improving the forest, which consists of 500 acres of woodlands located about 5 miles southeast of Peru.
According to the management plan, the harvest would concentrate on logging and removing stagnated and dying pine trees to create better growing conditions for the healthy hardwoods, including black walnut, cherry, oaks, hickory, poplar and maple.
Once logging ends, the harvest would likely result in the sale of about 250,000 board feet, which is a unit of measurement equal to a 1-foot length of a board that is 1-foot wide and 1-inch thick.
State Forester Amanda Smith, who is the property manager at Frances Slocum, said the first step in the process is to mark and document every tree that will be logged. That could begin next year and last for several years.
The project will then be bid out to a state-certified logging company, which will come in and harvest the trees selected by the DNR to sell as timber.
But one conservation group said it worries logging the forest so close to the Mississinewa River could lead to soil erosion and potentially disrupt the area’s growing bald eagle population.
“The whole tract borders the Mississinewa River, raising serious erosion concerns,” said Rae Schnapp, conservation director for the Indiana Forest Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the state’s native woodlands. “Plus, bald eagles have been successfully reproducing in the tall trees of this forest.”
According to the DNR’s management plan, the upcoming logging should have minimal impact on the wildlife in the forest, and the impact on soil and water will be minimized by using best-management practices. That includes a riparian - or river bank - management zone along the river, where large sycamore and hackberry trees will mostly be retained so birds can roost and nest.
Once logging begins, some trails will be temporarily closed. Access for hunting may also be restricted during the harvest. In the long term, thinning out the woods should reduce the number of dead trees that fall across and block the trails and roads, according to the DNR.
The state may also consider timing the harvest operation to the winter season to avoid major recreational seasons.
But conservationist Schnapp said the best way to not disrupt recreational activity in the forest is to not log it.
“We can’t afford to lose any large forests tracts, so rare in northern Indiana,” she said in an email. “ … The DNR should assure taxpayers that some areas are set aside from logging to prioritize recreation in Indiana's wildest nature. Taxpayers own these forests.”
The tract set for logging was acquired in two purchases in 1938 and 1941. Before the land was acquired by the state, it was mostly used for farming, according to the DNR. The state gradually replanted the property with pines and hardwoods over the years.
Smith said the last time the forest was harvested for timber was in 1993.
With the Frances Slocum management project just beginning, logging at another nearby state forest is set to begin next year.
Around 120 acres at Salamonie River State Forest will be harvested to help restore the native hardwood population. DNR’s Smith said bids on the project should be put out in April and logging will likely begin soon afterwards. The company that wins the contract will have two years to harvest the trees that have been marked by the DNR.
Salamonie River State Forest is made up of around 850 acres of woodlands in Wabash and Huntington counties.