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State park plea denied

BY Samantha Oyler - soyler@chronicle-tribune.com

The Indiana Natural Resources Commission recently rejected a petition to turn the Salamonie River and Frances Slocum state forests into state parks, allowing the planned logging to commence.

“We are not happy,” Indiana Forest Alliance Executive Director Jeff Stant said after a public hearing this week. “They already had their minds made up.”

Despite the commission’s decision, Stant said the battle for these lands is far from over.

He wants Hoosiers to reach out to Governor Eric Holcomb’s administration since Holcomb has the ability to stop the current plans to cut down one-third of the trees in both Salamonie River State and Frances Slocum state forests. 

Stant said there are three major steps that must happen in order to protect these forests.

First, citizens must ask Governor Holcomb to postpone timber sales in these areas.

Next, activist groups plan to ask for officials to conduct studies on the economic aspects of these forests.

Many individuals in favor of creating these state parks, including Mayor Brooks Fetters of Huntington, claim more state parks could have serious benefits for the area’s economy.

Lastly, Stant said officials need to assess the ecological resources that live there.

Bald eagles use both lakes to roost in the winter and throughout the year.

For months leading up to the meeting, activists in the northeastern part of the state were trying to rally support and signatures to prevent these logging projects.

More than 890 citizens submitted a petition in April.

Petitioners requested that both areas be transferred from the Division of Forestry to the Division of State Parks and Reservoirs, which would protect them from forest management like harvesting.

Since Frances Slocum is 500 acres or less in size, petitioners requested that it be considered a “Small State Park” or be transferred to the Frances Slocum State Recreation Area, but according to Stant, the process of transferring these lands is more complex than “just changing signs.”

Stant said creating these state parks would involve investing in them. He believes they could benefit from establishing a distinction between hiking and horse trails, establishing bald eagle viewing platforms and examining the necessary infrastructure to support a state park, like a fee-use structure.

According to a DNR report, more than 91 percent of the Salamonie State Forest’s property is covered with forests and an additional 57 acres have recently been planted to help with reforestation.

More than 99 percent of Frances Slocum State Forest is covered with forest, according to the report.

Last fall, DNR officials tagged at least 37 acres of trees for logging in Salamonie State Forest.

While officials say the logging would be to remove pine and let the hardwood forest regenerate, Indiana Division of Forestry reports show that less than 30 percent of the trees marked are pine.

Though there has been a lot of attention on these two areas, logging is not new.

Amanda Smith, DNR district forester for Salamonie’s county, said at a meeting this year that the logging practices keep the forest healthy, also adding that she’s heard of some logging that does take place at properties that are designated as state parks. 

The Division of Forestry is not solely interested in logging.

It’s responsible for managing and balancing industrial use, recreation and conservation.

DNR reports state that more than 50 percent of these forested acres are off limits to logging and harvesting, but activists believe none of the forests on these lands should be available for harvesting.

“Logging is an important industry,” Stant said. “But the industry doesn’t need timber from these forests.”

As of Friday, there have not been any scheduled timber sales in Huntington County, but because trees have already been marked, Stant says that could soon change.