State Sells Public Forest Timber for a Song

The Division of Forestry (DOF) has auctioned off timber in the heart of the Salamonie River State Forest for $10,000 in agency revenue (6 cents per board foot). For comparison, the average price for low quality timber sold in Indiana in 2020 was 30 cents per board foot. The DOF has a history of selling timber below market value. 

Removing Trees does not improve forest health. 

The term “forest management” can mean many different things. The DOF's forest management goal is to produce more merchantable timber, plain and simple. There is no ecological reason to remove trees from this forest. The periodic removal of select trees does not improve forest health. In fact, it disrupts the cycle of life and often increases the spread of detrimental non-native invasive species, which are the biggest challenge to forest health. Our state forests are being overtaken by invasive species as a result of this logging but there is little acknowledgement of this impact by the DOF. 

Timber harvests rely on heavy equipment to cut and haul logs. This requires road building. The Division of Forestry reports the number of merchantable trees but not the much larger number of trees that will be cut or damaged by equipment for construction of roads and log landings or in “timber stand improvement” activities done in conjunction with timber sales.. 

Many forest species depend on dead wood. Heavy equipment removes the downed logs that characterize a high quality mature forest. Equipment also crushes many species that live on the ground, interferes with recreational uses, and contributes to soil erosion and polluted runoff that can threaten water quality downstream. 

Removing trees does not increase biodiversity.

Creating forest openings can be good for some species and bad for others, depending on factors including mobility, life cycle, diet, etc. Experts describe the global decline in insect populations as an insect apocalypse. Dead and dying trees form the foundation of the forest food chain upon which thousands of insect species feed and provide crucial habitat too. Many species of birds and small mammals, in turn, feed upon these smaller life forms. Retention of dead wood is crucial to support natural forest biodiversity, especially for saprophytic species (those that rely directly on dead wood). 

“A meta-analysis across 24 species groups revealed that salvage logging significantly decreases numbers of species of eight taxonomic groups. Richness of dead wood dependent taxa (i.e. saproxylic organisms) decreased more strongly than richness of non-saproxylic taxa. In contrast, taxonomic groups typically associated with open habitats increased in the number of species after salvage logging.” 

“Extracting timber or other products changes the tree age structure, composition of tree species and vertical stratification, thereby affecting local temperature, light, moisture, soil and litter conditions. This results in changes or complete removal of microhabitats (such as dead wood, cavities, root plates or mature trees) that host forest biodiversity.” 

For Salamonie, logging the near-old-growth heart of this forest means losing the opportunity to bring old-growth forest back to this area until the 22nd century. This means losing the incredibly high diversity of tree species that Indiana's eastern hardwood forests are known for and Indiana's wildlife has evolved from over thousands of years. This forest, which has managed to avoid--for nearly a century--the destruction that took all of its neighboring forests, will finally and permanently lose the very parts that make it the "ecological jewel" the DoF has admitted it is. 

The dramatic, irreversible changes to Salamonie's near-old-growth forest that will result from this timber sale will render the forest unrecognizable. Special, niche habitats that are only possible in an undisturbed mature forest will disappear, and if they survive the logging, the creatures that live in these habitats will be forced to find another home in the vast, unforested farmland of northern Indiana, likely succumbing in the process.

Removing trees does not improve habitat for endangered bats. 

The US Fish and Wildlife service has published federal guidelines for bats that make no mention of the need for openings or tree removal. Instead, they emphasize retaining mature trees with flaking bark, dead trees, dying trees and those with cavities like many of those that have been marked for harvest in Salamonie. 

IDNR’s statement that the bald eagles commonly seen at Salamonie reside elsewhere around the Salamonie Reservoir is a flat out falsehood. The eagles commonly roost in the tall trees along the bank of the Salamonie River on the northern border of the track to be logged. IFA staff found five bald eagles perched closely together in those trees on a November 21 visit this year, and we found them on this stretch of Salamonie River in numerous previous visits in the last three years. 

The timber industry does not need this timber. 

The Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association says that only about 1% of the state’s supply comes from public lands. a-hardwood-assessment-claims-10-billion-industry-underutilized/46940541/ 

Details of the Salamonie River State Forest Sale 

The Division of Forestry plan is to harvest trees throughout the entire state forest system on a 20 year rotation. The Division of Forestry tallies the number of merchantable trees harvested but does not tally how many additional trees will be cut as culls or collateral damage due to the construction of roads into the area. Furthermore the preoccupation with merchantable trees ignores hundreds if not thousands of additional trees that are removed as “poles”, trees below 11 inches diameter at breast height (DBH), and other trees of all sizes that are cut down, girdled or killed with herbicides in “timber stand improvement” in conjunction with the sale. These TSI activities are undertaken to give oaks, coveted for their timber value, an artificial advantage in regenerating the stand.

The Salamonie River State Forest timber sale took place in a secret online bidding platform on Nov. 30. Only one timber buyer bid on the sale. The DOF sold 984 merchantable trees in the heart of the forest for a mere $10,000. This is 162,466 Doyle board feet of timber, including 394 board feet of veneer quality white oak. That is $0.06 per board foot, higher than most. d=Ha9UAcZsS6CWdo9JK2JuIw%3d%3d 

When the state sells timber by whole tracts from the state forest as it did in this sale rather than cutting and marketing the trees individually, taxpayers are ripped off. Veneer quality trees, each worth thousands of dollars, are sold for firewood prices. 

In this case, the DOF is saying that their need to improve the forest health (remove what they view as trees with inferior timber quality) brings down the price. We strongly disagree that trees that are crooked, diseased or dying means a forest is in ill health. We also note that native hardwood trees are steadily replacing the nonnative pines in the Salamonie tract naturally. However, the bottom line is if the DOF has been managing the state forests “scientifically” to “ensure forest health” for the last 100 years, why is it necessary now to virtually give away their trees to “improve forest health”? 

Division of Forestry 

The Indiana Division of Forestry does not have a management plan for Salamonie River State Forest or an up to date plan for the State Forest System as a whole. “Forest Strategic Plans” (the name given to their management plans) are listed on their website at The latest one that has been made publicly available is the Strategic Plan for 2015-2019. 

How can we trust the Division of Forestry to be transparent and honest about their forest management practices, when the most up-to-date strategic plan is almost three years expired? How can you--an owner of the state forests--be informed of what your public officials are doing, and be meaningfully included in the decision-making process for what happens to your public lands, when the state’s current plans for the state forests aren’t available to you? As a taxpaying Indiana

resident, the Division of Forestry works for you, and must be held accountable to what the people of Indiana want for their public forests. 

Learn More 

Check out these documents: 

Fair Market Value: An Investigation into State Forest Timber Sales Concealed Costs of State Forest Timber Sales 

The DIvision of Forestry page on the Salamonie State Forest timber sale is full of inconsistencies. The document listed on their website as the Salamonie River State Forest Management Plan is really a timber harvest plan for the oldest and most pristine tract. Weirdly, the document is also titled Justification for Allotment of CR&R Funds for State Forest Inventory. The sale of timber from this public forest took place in an online bidding platform that is not open to the public.