Indiana's forests are an integral but often overlooked component of many communities. Many residents recognize forests as green space that improves the quality of their lives and increases the value of their property. Less understood is the role of the forest in providing environmental benefits and economic value. Trees are a renewable natural resource that can easily be managed on a sustainable basis into perpetuity.
Forests provide habitat for many species of plants and animals. They improve water quality by serving as ground water recharge areas, and buffer and cleansing zones for the flow of surface runoff into streams. Forests and small woodlands also provide noise-reducing buffers and visual screens from certain sounds and activity not normally associated with residential lifestyles. Trees in their growing processes consume carbon dioxide and give-off oxygen, thus being major contributors to improved air quality.
Indiana's forests are also economically very important. They increase the value of land for development and recreation. They are the foundation of recreation and tourism in many communities, along with local parks and other non-commercial forested areas.
The wood products industry is a major contributor to the economic foundation of many Indiana communities. Although primary manufacturing, such as sawmills and veneer mills, may not be located in every county, secondary processing and other value-added types of manufacturing facilities, such as millwork and cabinet shops, are common in most communities. They are important sources of employment and revenue generation, and are heavy contributors to the local tax base. Indiana's wood-using industry is a major player in the global market, sending products to markets all over the world.
Statewide total acreage of forest land is increasing due to over one hundred years of governmental programs promoting good forest management and intensification of production agriculture. Existing forests typically contain trees in a wide range of age classes as the result of past sustainable harvesting practices, but most new timberland tracts are on reclaimed old fields. These new forestlands will take many decades to resemble mature hardwood forests. Although they are future forests, they currently do not replace established mature forests in terms of value and function.
Forestlands containing mature trees are often envisioned by prospective buyers as the preferred home sites, but in reality they probably are not the best wooded sites for development. The mature trees are usually less responsive to disturbance, and because of their size, are more difficult to remove later if they die or need to be removed for some reason.
Development is important to Indiana's economy and the well-being of its citizens. However, development's overall contribution can be enhanced by good planning that considers the needs of a community and the overall impacts of alternative development patterns. Whether development takes place on forestland, farmland, or other open space should be an informed decision based on all the pros and cons of the tradeoffs involved. The Indiana Society of American Foresters supports planning that minimizes the fragmentation of forest parcels. Development on forestland should consider the economic and environmental benefits provided by each parcel of forestland. Development should focus on parcels with existing or planned infrastructure. The largest negative impacts result from developments scattered across the landscape with no consideration given to future needs for infrastructure or forest integrity. Development that supports the renewal of urban areas, older suburban areas, brownfields, historic districts, etc., should be of higher priority than new development in areas without supporting infrastructure.
Each planning jurisdiction should examine the current balance of land uses within its borders. The contributions of each use to the well-being of its citizens should be evaluated. Future development should be targeted to those tracts which can best accommodate it with minimal harm to the environment and the current land use. We support the conversion of underutilized acreage to more natural conditions within the matrix of developed land to provide environmental and other benefits. Development that concentrates houses and leaves as large a portion of the original tract as possible undisturbed should be encouraged, especially when large tracts of forestland are involved.
The forestry profession can assist in the planning process by being a source of technical information for planners and the citizens they serve. Foresters can help identify areas where forestlands should be maintained as working forests so they will continue to serve desirable environmental needs and at the same time provide a timber supply base for the valuable resource needs.
Foresters can also assist developers by suggesting ways to preserve the beauty and serenity of the forest, so important to prospective home buyers. They can explain to developers and landowners the importance of continued forest management to the health of the forest. Healthy forests minimize the dangers to homeowners from potential storm damage and wildfire. Foresters are trained to work with other natural resource professionals on issues related to soil erosion, water quality, wildlife habitat management, and other important concerns. Initial contact with either a private consulting forester or a public forester can be made by contacting the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry; or the Purdue Cooperative Extension office in your county.
ABOUT THE SOCIETY
The Society of American Foresters, with about 17,000 members, is the national organization that represents all segments of the forestry profession in the United States. It includes public and private practitioners, researchers, administrators, educators, and forestry students. The Society was established in 1900 by Gifford Pinchot and six other pioneer foresters.