Since the news of the recent clear-cutting of a swath of property in Brown County reached the Indiana Audubon Society’s Stewardship Committee, we have been following the events that led up to this unfortunate error (made either on the part of those entrusted by the public with the scenic property there, the contractors working for them, or perhaps both of those entities). Our examination of this situation was/is done in hope of gaining greater understanding of what happened to the forested land near the Bean Blossom Overlook area, because we feel what has happened in Brown County is a misstep in the long-range goals of natural resource stewardship, and Indiana Audubon feels compelled to speak out regarding the situation that occurred.
While our primary concern is for the area’s nature itself, we are also perplexed by the causation of the event. We feel the communication between the invested parties (Parks Board, logging contractors, and community members) was flawed. Factors include:
1.) There was undue haste to complete the project, ergo crossing a line into the appearance of impropriety.
2.) There were no efforts to seek out or accommodate public input prior to the action.
3.) The contract was not devised to insure the protection of wildlife habitat, nor the public trust.
Seen holistically, this indicates an alarming degree of irresponsibility or at the least the appearance of such.
A greater question is will this violation of the public’s trust be allowed to be a model for what might become the standard practice – recurring in other localities – or will it serve as a valuable lesson to be avoided in the future?
The Indiana Audubon Society (IAS) has a genuine concern – and duty – to involve ourselves in the public’s collective concern for all natural spaces within the State. As part of our organization’s longstanding mission – connected as it is to the conservation of the State’s habitat(s) belonging to birds and other wildlife – we pay close attention to all conservation efforts and their effects. Therefore, the IAS places significant importance on issues concerning habitats and soil erosion, and their negative impacts on local water bodies (impacts which have clearly, already taken place in the area in question).
Another significant concern we have is the high potential for introduction of invasive plant species (Japanese Stilt Grass, i.e.) into our native Hoosier areas. In light of the missing protocols to address this in the contract by all parties involved, it is not a stretch of imagination to expect that invasive plant species have been inadvertently or carelessly introduced through ignorance of the best practices to prevent such, and were brought into the area in question either by the failure of the Parks Dept. to stipulate the prophylactic care which needs to be taken and/or from the harvesting equipment/logging crews ignoring or not having had sufficient instruction in those best practices. The contract did not stipulate concern for this important aspect of logging practices.
As an organization, the IAS is not an opponent of responsible, deliberate and well thought-through forestry management, and as made evident through empirical data provided recently by such work through Purdue University, et al, we recognize the potentially positive impacts of such activities upon nature and wildlife. Indiana Audubon Society sincerely feels we would be remiss should we fail to voice our concerns in reaction to what appears to be either blatant disregard, or negligent omission, of the prior seeking out of public input regarding this logging event. If that had occurred, we feel certain that the egregious, mistake upon the public trust in Brown County would have been prevented.
Please accept this statement and its open questions as to whatever efforts can and will be made to prevent such flawed actions to occur again. By denying the public’s prior input, this irresponsible harvesting of public land has resulted in not only significant damage to natural habitats, and infringements on the rights of property owners, but it has damaged a huge portion of one of Indiana’s scenic treasures as well – which will without doubt impact the People of Brown County financially through loss of one of the County’s chief sources of revenue: tourist and art group visitations.
Most importantly of all, a breakdown of public trust through sidestepping stakeholder input has occurred, and we Implore you to consider the great intellectual minds that both Indiana Audubon and the citizens of Brown County possess in future management actions that affect the public and our great natural resources.
In concerned respect;
Philip Clay English
Indiana Audubon Society
Stewardship Committee Chair