Save Our Yellowwood Forest

~by Mark Blackwell

I met a real nice gang of people the other day. They were camped out up at the end of Possum Trot Road about where it runs into Yellowwood State Forest. They are camped out to protest the sale and harvest of standing timber in the back country area of the forest. I had, until recently, lived in another part of Yellowwood and I thought I might go up and see what we might have in common.

I have had a long relationship with Yellowwood going back to 1972. I like Brown County and I like the State Park there but most of all, I like the State Forest. It didn’t charge an entry fee. The camping was primitive, but cheap. And I could put my canoe in the lake any time I took a notion to. The forest there had a story and a history. I liked all of it.
I got a chance to get to know the forest a little better back in the bicentennial year of 1976. I had bounced around—doing this and that to distract the wolf that lived on my doorstep—when a friend told me about a federal jobs program that was hiring out at Yellowwood. So, I looked into it.

I found myself working with a crew to build trails for hiking and nature appreciation. We made rustic wooden signs that marked trails and boundaries. We maintained the shelter houses and campgrounds. We collected tree seeds for the state nursery. We collected modest fees for camping and boat rentals. I was happy with the work environment and the work itself had meaning and dignity. While many jobs required working as part of a crew, much of the work was done solo. And I fell in love with Yellowwood.

But, things change.

The job did not pay as well as I would have liked, the commute from Bloomington was long, and my wife and I had a baby on the way. I left my job in the forest and found work elsewhere.

Fast forward to the waning days of the last century. I found myself with children grown, a stable job, and a desire to live in the country. I had a friend who just happened to own and operate forty acres of reasonably unmanaged and unimproved timber inside Yellowwood State Forest. He offered to let me buy ten acres. In1998 I built a cabin out there. My new wife and I moved out to the woods a year before the new millennium.

Life was good—at least for the first few years.
I don’t remember seeing much logging when I worked at Yellowwood in the 1970s. There must have been some, but I think it didn’t have much of an impact on forest activities. In 2004, Governor Mitch Daniels decided that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Forestry should fund its own budget for the first time. That meant increased revenue from timber sales.

For many years Indiana harvested around 1.5 million board feet of timber per year from state forests. By 2013 that rate sky-rocketed to more than 14 million board feet. That rate of logging brings with it a host of problems such as erosion, silting up of streams and lakes, the destruction of wildlife habitat, and the spread of invasive plants.

Back in 1981 the 2,700 acre Morgan-Monroe Yellowwood back country area was established to provide a protected area for hiking and primitive camping. Walking is the only mode of transportation— you can’t even ride horses into the back country. “Users of the area should enter with the philosophy that they will disturb as little as possible the natural woodland ecosystem, and that it offers an experience of visiting a forested area looking much the same as it may have appeared a century and a half ago,” from a statement by the DNR.

I imagine that it will be difficult to “disturb as little as possible the natural ecosystem” while bringing in tractor trailers, bulldozers, and skidders. There are also the clear-cut staging areas that get churned to a muddy froth which foments the introduction of Japanese Stiltgrass and other invasive flora.

To my way of thinking, the State Forests belong to us, the public, the people and we should collectively have a say in how our public lands are managed. If the DNR has a plan, then let them publish it, and let the public comment. Publish the comments, or better yet, let us vote on any plans for major changes to management practices.

We can only hope that our friends at the Possum Trot camp will prevail and bring a sense of sanity and proportion back to the Division of Forestry. If they do not, then maybe a sign ”Welcome to Yellow-stump State Forest” would be appropriate.

Please contact Governor Holcomb at <>, (317) 232-4567.

There is a facebook page for “Save Yellowwood” and a movie about the efforts by John Boggs.