National Forests Practice Multiple Use Management
By Judi Pérez
The Hoosier National Forest provides over 203,000 acres of public land in the south central part of our state. The first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot’s philosophy of having national forests provide “the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long run” became the Forest Service motto that we know today “Caring for the land and serving people.” This motto reflects the Forest Service practice of multiple use management on national forest in Indiana and nationwide.
National forests conduct visitor use surveys every five years, the last surveys on the Hoosier occurred from October 2013 to September 2014. While we are still waiting on the specific outcomes of those surveys, we know that 333,000 visits to the Forest were estimated during that time. Previous surveys have shown that most visitors to the Hoosier come to view nature and wildlife, and to hike. The Hoosier has over 260 miles of trails available for hiking, mountain bike riding and horseback riding. Much of our annual program or work is spent monitoring and maintaining these trails, keeping them cleared and safe for visitors.
Due to its proximity to larger communities such as Bedford, Bloomington, Columbus and even Indianapolis the almost 13,000 acre Charles C. Deam Wilderness in the northern part of the Forest receives a lot of use. It is the only Congressionally designated wilderness in Indiana. Wilderness is designated for the preservation and protection of lands in their natural condition. Though the lands in the Deam show evidence of past human use and settlement, no commercial forest management occurs here. There are 37 miles of trails available in the Deam for backpackers, hikers, and horseback riders access to have a more primitive experience with less likelihood of human interaction.
Horseback riders (and mountain bikers) must display a trail tag when riding the Hoosier. The proceeds collected from the sale of the tags goes directly back to maintain and repair local resources. Some of those funds may be used to gravel Forest trails helping the soils stay in place and reducing the impacts of heavy use on the trail systems.
Many hikers, mountain bike riders, horseback riders, and other visitors stay on the Hoosier. The Forest provides a variety of camping experiences to meet most needs. Fee based recreation areas at Hardin Ridge, Tipsaw, and Celina Lake provide developed experiences with level pads for tents or RVs, water, electricity, restrooms, showers, and even RV dump stations. Much of the rest of the Forest is available for dispersed camping; these areas may have a few amenities but there is no charge.
The Hoosier is dotted with fishable ponds and lakes ranging from Monroe Lake to the quarter-acre Shove Ridge Pond on the southern end of the Forest. Anglers must follow state fishing regulations but over 30 small lakes and ponds are available to keep any angler occupied. Please note that larger areas are signed but many are off the beaten path, so access may be a challenge. Ponds and lakes are managed cooperatively with Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife. The Hoosier manages access and habitat while DNR manages the fish.
Wetlands are popular for hunters and wildlife watchers seeking waterfowl and other wetland species. Wetlands help improve water quality, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for bottomland wildlife species including amphibians, migratory waterfowl, wading birds and eastern forest bats. These areas also provide more diverse bottomland hardwood forest, while providing enhanced opportunities for fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing and even conservation education. One of the larger wetlands on the Hoosier is along the Little Blue River in Crawford County; the Otter Creek complex provides approximately 150 acres of riparian ecosystem.
Similar to fishing, hunters using the Hoosier must follow state regulations. Habitat management work on the Hoosier is done to increase the amount of high quality habitat for all native wildlife species. Permanent Forest openings are managed across the landscape to provide vital components of early successional habitat. Managing forested areas to provide a mix of tree species and age classes creates higher quality habitat and meets other species needs, such as creating canopy gaps to increase forbs and other understory components.
Likewise, management of woodlands and barrens habitat provides diversity of available habitats to plant and wildlife species. Farm fields acquired by the Hoosier have been planted with warm season grasses and native prairie forbs to provide habitat for grassland bird species and migrant butterfly populations.
National Forests manage resources to maintain forest health and all that it entails. Many of the forest stands on the Hoosier are around the same age class because the lands were acquired and replanted around the same time. Therefore, the resulting forest has little diversity in age class or structure. Since 2006, personnel have been implementing the Forest Plan to increase diversity and improve resilience across the Hoosier (Figure 1). Since 2008 the Hoosier has averaged around 4,000 MBF/year of timber volume sold. Over the coming years the Forest expects to continue to harvest timber at an estimated 300 acres/year. This coupled with prescribed fire treatments should increase habitat quality across the Forest in the coming years (Figure 2).
There are some things that are not available on the Hoosier. The most problematic unauthorized use seems to be off-road vehicle riding. All-terrain vehicles (ATV) on the Hoosier cause thousands of dollars in resource damage and personnel time annually. Analysis in the 2006 Forest Plan concluded that due the limited land base and the soil composition an ATV trail may not the best use for the Hoosier. However, challenges associated with limiting this use are a struggle. Hoosier personnel will continue to work to limit impacts from illegal ATV use.
Sustainable management of resources on the Hoosier provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people. National forest visitors benefit from a multiple use management approach in the changing colors, the variety of habitats providing home to wildlife and fish, and a multitude of recreation experiences offered on these public lands.
Judi Pérez is a Public Affairs Officer with the USDA Forest Service, Hoosier National Forest.