For the last several decades, the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association and the Indiana Forest Alliance have disagreed and at times clashed over issues involving the management of our state forests, but recent joint meetings have revealed one very important area on which we can both agree and have pledged to work on together to find a solution that benefits all Hoosiers and our state’s forest resources.
Retirements and resignations combined with extended delays in refilling positions due to budget constraints limit the ability of the Division of Forestry to service private landowners and effectively manage the growing Classified Forest & Wildlands Program.
Indiana prides itself on being compliant with standards developed within industries. Given the current staff shortages, our ability to be compliant with our Forest Stewardship Council requirements is currently at risk.
When fully staffed, the Classified Forest Management (CFM) Section has 20 district foresters and 2 assistant district foresters. The CFM Section currently has 5 vacancies and 2 positions that are reduced due to competing workloads within the division.
Over the past 15 years, the enrolled acreage in the Classified Forest and Wildlands Program has grown by 80%, from 450,000 acres to 825,000. This program has been an excellent incentive in keeping private forests intact and has allowed marginal ground to revert to forests. Consequently, our state’s forest base has tripled in less than a century and has served as a model for other states.
By contrast, the Division of Forestry’s budget has shrunk from $12.4 million in 2009 to $10.3 million in 2019, yet it is still tasked with serving this important program. In addition to all the other Division activities that have grown, the result is the DoF has to support 375,000 more acres with $2 million less funding than nine years ago.
The Classified Forest Program requires written forest management plans, and district foresters are essential to providing landowners the expertise required to understand and complete these plans. The result of the program is healthier, sustainable forests which provide over 99% of the timber that feeds the state’s largest agricultural industry – hardwoods. Proper forest management also provides many other benefits to Indiana, including mitigating the effects of a changing climate, clean water and air, flood and fire suppression and wildlife habitat. Additional benefits include disease and pest infestations and invasive species control, as well as enhanced quality of life and recreational opportunities.
Although our organizations may differ on priorities and management philosophies, our common concern is for the overall health and growth of our state’s precious and valuable public and private forest resources. Without at least the minimum level of sufficient assistance from our state’s forestry experts, private forestland owners will be unable to maintain this forest base, and we will see reductions in Indiana’s overall forest. These reductions will hurt the forest products industry, the outdoor recreation industry, and Indiana’s quality of place, all of which are critical to making Indiana a diverse and attractive option for our citizens and workforce. Additionally, these stretched resources strain the DoF’s ability to effectively oversee our public forests.
As a state, we can no longer afford to ignore this crisis involving one of our most important natural resources. Our mutual organizations respectfully request that the Governor and the legislature work cooperatively to address this important budget shortfall. The economic benefits derived by both the forest products and recreation industries, as well as the general benefits to all Hoosiers of better-maintained public forests will more than compensate for the nominal cost of restoring the Indiana Division of Forestry to, at very least, its pre-2009 funding level.