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DeforestationDeforestation and Habitat Destruction


When settlers first came to Indiana in the 1700s, over twenty million acres of forests covered the land. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than 90 percent, or 18 million acres, were cleared to create farmland for crops and livestock. In 1929, the Great Depression led many farmers to leave their land, and the forests had a chance to grow again. By 1967, the forests in Indiana reached a point where they covered over 4.1 million acres of land. Today, Indiana forests shelter more than 4.4 million acres of land, 85 percent of which are privately owned.

Unfortunately, most people who own private forestland use their timber for profit, by either selling the land or using the trees for logging. Indiana, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, "has some of the most productive timberlands in the United States and is the second leading producer of hardwood lumber in the nation” ("By All Measurements"). Many items used in homes now are made from Indiana trees, and the demand for goods and services created by forestland continues to increase rapidly.

The combined destruction—resulting from agriculture, irresponsible logging, urban sprawl, transportation corridors, and other human activity—has eliminated nearly all of the old-growth forests in Indiana and fragmented much of the forest that remains. The negative impact upon wildlife and plant life has been tremendous. Suitable habitats for breeding, nesting, and feeding have been irreversibly altered or destroyed for many species of animals, as forests have been fragmented into small, isolated woodlots across much of the state. Many species of warblers, for example, require large areas of continuous forest habitat, rather than the shallow margins that dominate when forests are fragmented. In contrast, the brown-headed cowbird, which favors wooded margins, has increased in population and in turn threatened the populations of many Indiana songbirds.

Many organizations now exist to protect existing forests in Indiana, such as the Indiana Forest Alliance, Heartwood, the Indiana Society of American Foresters, and various offices of the state and federal government. Many individuals, likewise, are taking an interest in preserving the forests for recreational uses. Teaming with Wildlife, for example, reports that camping brought $319 million to the state in 1996, representing "a significant number of people who are enjoying the outdoors as well as their existing and potential benefits to Indiana's economy.”

In south central Indiana, the Hoosier National Forest provides a place where families can go to enjoy Indiana's wilderness and where thousands of plant and animal species have become established. Currently, the forest protects four endangered animal species: the Indiana bat, gray bat, bald eagle, and fan shell mussel. Over the years controversies have continued on whether or not logging should be permitted in the Hoosier National Forest. In 2002, the controversy included President George Bush’s "Healthy Forests Initiative," which would allow increased logging in national forests in order to reduce potential fuel for forest fires.

The constant threat to Indiana’s forests will continue as long as people see only the dollar value of the trees and land. While some logging and destruction is unavoidable for various reasons, Hoosiers should recognize how vitally important the forests are to the environment and the living species that rely on the health and growth of the forests.


“Forests and Forestry in Indiana.” Dept. of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue U. 13 October 2002

Indiana Society of American Foresters. "Position Statements."
13 October 2002 <http://www.indianasaf.org/pos/>.

O'Neill, Charlie. "Legislation Threatens Bio-diversity in State Forests." Legislative Issues. Indiana Wildlife Federation.
25 October 2002. <http://www.indianawildlife.org/issues.html>.

United States. Dept. of Agriculture. Forest Service. North Central Research Station. "By All Measurements—Indiana’s Forests Are Growing." 2000. 13 October 2002

---. Hoosier National Forest. 11 Sept. 2002. 13 October 2002. <http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/hoosier/>.

“Wildlife Funding in Indiana.” Teaming with Wildlife. 2002. 25 October 2002 <http://www.teaming.com/site/