The Hoosier National Forest and the big picture

The Hoosier National Forest may or may not be the smallest in the nation. Ditto the most fragmented. But depending the persepctive, both are true. And that presents unique challenges for those who manage the 202,000 acres of public land that stretches from the shores of Monroe Lake near Bloomington to the Ohio River at Tell City.

“It’s complicated is the short answer,” Hoosier Supervisor Mike Chaveas said during a July 17 interview at his office in Bedford. The extensive boundary lines and overall “chunked up” nature of the Hoosier (and other forests in the U.S. Forest Service’s Eastern Region) creates complexity for forest managers.

“The Hoosier National Forest, it’s maybe not the most fragmented,” he said. “But it’s pretty close to being the most fragmented national forest in the whole system, across the country.”

It is the smallest in the National Forest System that is managed as one entity.

“You have a number of national forests, like in North Carolina, for example, and Alabama and Mississippi, where they used to be individual national forests, and they’re now managed under one forest supervisor for the whole state. Some of those are smaller.”


This is the second in a series of articles from an interview between Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas and Natural Bloomington’s Steven Higgs. Read Part 1, Where is Hoosier National Supervisor Mike Chaveas coming from? The 38-minute conversation can be seen in full or in segments at the Natural Bloomington YouTube channel or through Community Access Television Services in Bloomington.


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The Hoosier is one of 153 national forests and grasslands nationwide that are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, whose mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

Among the Forest Service goals for the Hoosier are conservation of threatened and endangered species habitat, maintaining and restoring sustainable ecosystems and watershed health, protecting cultural heritage, and providing recreation that is harmonious with natural communities.

The Forest Service’s Eastern Region, one of nine nationwide, includes 17 forests from Minnesota to Maine and Virginia to Missouri with more than 12 million acres, surrounded by more than 40 percent of the U.S. population.

As with many public lands in Southern Indiana and region, much of the acreage that now comprises the Hoosier had been heavily settled, farmed, logged, and abandoned between the late 1800s and early1900s and was rejuvenated by New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps workers. Fast-growing pines, for example, were planted to stabilize the eroding landscape.

The Hoosier is not, as some maps suggest, a single landmass stretching across nine Southern Indiana counties that include rugged, unglaciated upland forests surrounding a world-famous expanse of karst topography and the Lost River Watershed, sometimes called to a subterranean Grand Canyon. The solid green areas identified by mapmakers as the Hoosier represents the “purchase area” within which the Forest Service is authorized to buy land for the national forest.

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While the Hoosier’s landmass is barely one fifth of the million-acre-plus Mt. Hood National Forest’s in Oregon where Chaveas served as a District Ranger before coming to the Hoosier in June 2014, it is in fact Indiana's largest public land holding, by far.

The wooded landscape sprawls across significant portions of the state’s Shawnee Hills and Highland Rim Natural Regions. Its forest ecosystems comprise about half of the public forestland in Indiana and play key roles in regional biodiversity.

From a managerial perspecrive, the forest’s thousands of scattered, wooded parcels are organized geographically around four “units,” in Forest Service terms, from north to south: Pleasant Run, Lost River, Patoka, and Tell City.

In addition to the abundance of private landowners on its periphery, Chaveas said, the Hoosier’s “external partners” include state and local agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations and others with direct interests in its management.

And though this multiplicity of forces adds complexity to decision making and can slow the process down, the potential for success working “outside the green lines” is in some ways enhanced.

“The opportunities for reaching a more diverse group and getting people tuned into the issues from a conservation standpoint are greater because of that,” he said.

Like all forests governed by the National Forest Management Act, the Hoosier is managed under a Land Management Plan that is supposed to be revised every 10 to 15 years, at least in the ideal world, Chaveas said. The latest Hoosier plan was updated in 2006. But an update is not imminent.

“There’s not an expiration date,” he said. “The information in there is still good. The direction still stands until we do revise it.”


Hoosier National Forest Photographs: Top, Hemlock Cliffs, Crawford County; Center, Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, Monroe County;  Bottom right, PawPaw Marsh, Martin County.


This is the second in a series of articles from an interview between Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas and Natural Bloomington’s Steven Higgs. Upcoming pieces will address forest management, timber harvesting, wilderness and more. The 38-minute conversation can be seen in full or in segments at the Natural Bloomington YouTube channel or through Community Access Television Services in Bloomington.

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