Sierra Club Hike with Mike (Chaveas) on Fork Ridge; guidebook trail reaches the last marker

Nearly a dozen-and-a-half hearty Hoosier Sierrans spent an afternoon debating forest management – read clearcutting in the Monroe Lake Watershed – with Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas on Nov. 10. The fourth annual Sierra Club Hike with Mike, this one in backwoods Jackson County on the Fork Ridge Trail, however, ended in tragedy when one fell and suffered head injuries on the way down the ridge.

Fork Ridge is an obscure, spectacular Hoosier National trail, around whose steep slopes Chaveas plans some 4,000 acres of logging near the Hickory Ridge Horsecamp, more than a thousand of them via even-aged management, a.k.a. clearcutting. Four hundred acres will be clearcut, during which all trees will be cut on large plots of land. Another 700 will be harvested using a method called shelterwood, a slow-motion clearcut in which all trees from a given plot are cut in two phases over a period of a few years.

Among the environmental groups on the hike that are challenging Chaveas’s Houston (house-ton) South cut were the Friends of Lake Monroe, Hoosier Environmental Council, Hoosier Hikers Council and the Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club.

After public and political opposition literally shut down logging in the 204,000-acre Hoosier from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, Chaveas and his predecessors, since 2006, have steadily increased timber harvesting by some 15 percent.

Between 1986 and 1992, the Forest Service sold an average of 0.43 million board feet of timber per year, according to agency data. This year, Chaveas will exceed 7 million.

This despite a Forest Service analysis of 16 opinion polls from 2000 to 2011 that showed overwhelming public opposition to national forest logging across the nation. Surveys from New England to Alabama and Georgia to the Rocky Mountain States showed, regardless how the question was phrased, 60 to 90 percent of American citizens want the national forests managed for outdoor recreation and wilderness.

“The following 16 polls indicate that average Americans do not want the trees in their national forest harvested,” the analysis concludes. “They feel they are more valuable when left standing.”

At last word, our injured companion was recovering well.

The guidebook road ends

The Natural Bloomington guidebook phase officially reached the trail’s end on Nov. 14, when I sent the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana’s index and final proof edits to IU Press, the last time I will see it before my advance copies arrive late next winter.

This epic pursuit of all things nature in Indiana followed highways and trails; ridge tops and valleys; and rivers, creeks and streams through all four corners of the state – literally,

  • from the Wabash Lowlands at the Illinois-Kentucky state lines,
  • to the Douglass Woods Nature Preserve at the Ohio-Michigan state lines,
  • from the Oxbow at the Kentucky-Ohio lines,
  • to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in sight of the Chicago skyline,
  • and everywhere in between.

Explorations of 144 national, state and nonprofit forests, parks, lakes and lakeshores, wildlife areas and nature preserves produced the Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana, IU Press, Spring 2016, and the Guide to Natural Areas of Northern Indiana, IU Press, Spring 2019.

It laid the foundation for the ongoing exploration of the Hoosier National Forest that will  manifest as a coffee table book: Rewilding Southern Indiana: the Hoosier National Forest, IU Press, Fall 2020.

What a wild, magnificent trip it’s been.

Hike with Mike Photos: Hoosier National Forest, Fork Ridge Trail 


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