INDIANAPOLIS — The Natural Resources Commission, during its regularly scheduled meeting July 16 at Fort Harrison State Park, unanimously declined a petition to change two state forests to state parks.

The goal of the petition was to redesignate Salamonie River State Forest as Salamonie River State Park and to identify Frances Slocum State Forest as a “small state park” or transfer it back to status as a state recreation area.

“Implied in the petition was that passage would result in the management of those state forests as state parks, which would exclude them from all forest management,” said a news release from the NRC.

A community group had rallied to save the two state properties from scheduled tree harvests that they fear will threaten stands of mature trees and open the areas to unnatural growth and invasive species.

Salamonie River State Forest is 850 acres preserved by the state of Indiana southwest of Fort Wayne, between Huntington and Wabash. Frances Slocum State Forest is located nearby. The forests of Salamonie and Frances Slocum are maturing and their characteristics indicate some stands approaching old growth conditions within the next three decades, says a case study that accompanied a petition with 871 signatures delivered to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office and the Indiana Natural Resources Commission on April 23.

In its report presented to the NRC, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources multidivision committee that studied the proposal recommended the petition be denied, saying it sees “no synergies or advantages, in terms of fiscal or resource management, with the request.”

The group that was rallying to stop the deforestation is concerned with preserving Indiana’s mature trees for the future. Of Indiana’s original 20 million acres of forest, fewer than 2,000 acres of old-growth forests remain intact. Most of those sites are protected as nature preserves, including Steuben County’s McClue Nature Preserve.

“DNR explored the requests of the petition and did not find just cause to move Salamonie River and Frances Slocum State Forests from the Division of Forestry to State Parks,” said DNR director Cameron F. Clark. “DNR manages its properties to serve Hoosiers, and these properties are best suited to be state forests.”

The committee’s entire report, which includes forest management practices, recreation opportunities and more, is at nrc.IN.gov/2354.htm.

It suggests that “the reality is making such a change may actually reduce recreational opportunities, since hunting, various types of collecting and firewood cutting are not allowed or are limited under state park management.”

The NRC is an autonomous board that addresses topics pertaining to the DNR. More details on these actions are available at nrc.IN.gov/2354.htm under Current Meeting Agenda.

NRC members include the DNR director, heads of three other state agencies (Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Office of Tourism Development, and the Indiana Department of Transportation), six residents appointed by the governor on a bipartisan basis, the chair of the DNR’s advisory council, and the president of the Indiana Academy of Science. The Academy of Science president and the agency heads, other than the DNR director, may appoint proxies to serve the commission in their absences.

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