- Associated Press - Sunday, August 17, 2014

NASHVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Every morning, Bogdan Dragnea walks the Yellowwood State Forest. It’s one of the reasons he chose to live off of a gravel road, equidistant from Bloomington and Nashville, surrounded by the sight of green trees, the sound of chirping birds and the smell of the woods in the morning.

There have been very different sights and sounds recently. One of the tracts of the Yellowwood forest near his home has become inhabited by chain saws. Blue sky has become more visible than it once was, and foot-tall tree stumps are marked with blue paint.

“You wake up to the smell of sawdust and diesel,” Dragnea told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/Vj25bK ). “The very reason you live here, it has come under attack.”

Part of the Scarce O’ Fat Trail had once been deemed unfit for logging because of protections for the endangered Indiana bat. In June, however, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources determined there were no female bats in the area. Hamilton Logging purchased a contract for 1,900 trees at a cost of about $93,000 and began cutting outside of the normal restricted season, which runs from October through March.

Just a few months ago, on an unoccupied, private lot next door to Dragnea’s house, a hill was stripped of decades-old oaks by a different logging company. Dragnea slaps his hands on a stump the size of a coffee table and points at others just like it along the slope, “One, two, three, four . “

That being said, Dragnea didn’t expect the next hit - on public land, along his favorite morning hiking route, when the terms of the original timber sale notice listed October through March as a no-logging period. The contract, unbeknownst to the neighbors, was amended when the DNR decided the bat was not in that part of the forest. The neighbors didn’t know cutting would be going on nearby until there was a sign on a metal gate closing the trail.

They wonder if the payoff for the state is worth what the loggers are leaving behind.

While the DNR has utilized logging as a means to collect money for its operating budget, the results can seem messy for people who utilize the trails. The tops of trees are piled high, to eventually be used for firewood for the public. Management strategies call for large openings in the canopy to allow for the seeds of oaks to get the light they need, while cutting invasive species such as the Virginia pine out of the woods altogether.

But Dragnea and one of his neighbors, Mark Blaney, noticed during one stroll a tall, thin pine standing alone near the less-than-clean cut of a four-foot stump and wonder what the sight of mangled stumps and thin trees would impress upon a hiker. It’s hard to find a pine tree in the piles of trunks that loggers have cut.

“This could be on a postcard,” Blaney says, sarcastically, as he looks at the skinny pine still standing. “Come to Indy!”

The charm of life out here is what’s untouched by human hands. Plants wrap around mailboxes. Driveways are hundreds of yards apart and sit under green, leafy canopies. Yellowwood State Forest is basically their backyard. A big, white dog lazily saunters down the right side of Sewell Road, alone, presumably heading home for dinner. But on its own schedule.

The neighbors have been caught somewhat off-guard by the logging process. That’s not an uncommon reaction, according to Myke Luurtsema with the Indiana Forest Alliance. There was a substantial increase in logging under the administration of former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who aimed to increase the amount of board feet taken from Indiana’s forests from 3.4 million to 17 million.

But with increased activity hasn’t necessarily come increased awareness - and Luurtsema says the DNR has done its part in recruiting new members for his organization when citizens find themselves confronted by unexpected and unexplained logging activity. The DNR does hold open houses where logging activity is discussed, and there are public meetings prior to the awarding of contracts, but critics say that information isn’t always found before cutting starts.

Monroe County’s planning department also receives calls from residents concerned about nearby logging, assistant director Jason Eakin said, but there are limits to what the county can do about activity at Yellowwood, just across the county line in Brown County.

“Logging is a recognized industry at the state level, and state laws reflect that,” Eakin said. “That would be my comment on that.”

Officials from the DNR did meet with community members from Sewell Road on July 30 to discuss what the loggers were doing. Jim Allen, the property manager for the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests, was able to address some concerns: The tops of trees are left behind because it would damage the landscape more to bring them out and piles of loose branches can create habitats for animals.

John Seifert, the state forester with the DNR, said tracking the Indiana bat is a “fluid” situation. The area off of Sewell Road on the eastern edge of Monroe County was only under restriction because foresters were being cautious until they could narrow down where reproducing females were located. Seifert said there are no female bats within 2.5 miles of the area currently being logged.

And trees will grow back, Seifert said. Logging has been happening for centuries. Many residents who live near the forest, but haven’t been alive long enough to know, don’t know that many of the forests they live in were at one point cleared. Seifert would argue that it’s better for the DNR to log under their jurisdiction and have the state reap the financial benefits than let loggers seek out private lands where there is little control.

At the same time, Luurtsema argues that loggers only get a small amount of their wood from state lands, maybe 5 to 7 percent of their business, so some backcountry areas would be better left alone until more study can be done to better catalog what species exist where. He doesn’t buy the reasoning that larger openings are to help oaks grow. On the other hand, more oaks are being taken because oak is more valuable wood. Just because a tree is marked by blue paint doesn’t mean loggers have to take it, and pines are being left behind.

Details aside, Dragnea has a broader question. He wonders why the DNR has to be self-sustaining in the first place, and why it would have a dual mission - to protect the forest but also to make money from cutting it down.

He’s just left wondering why logging has to be done this way.

When he looks into the forest, Dragnea says, “It’s like a bomb hit it.”

___

Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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