BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY
Southern Indiana’s hill country boasts some of the state’s largest stands of old-growth forests, and a veritable melting pot of biodiversity. According to Jeffrey Stant, executive director of Indiana Forest Alliance (IFA), which is tracking the number of species, “We’re probably going to come in somewhere around 4,000 different species identified, with at least 200 of them seen for the first time ever in the state. Twenty-four of them are rare, threatened, or endangered mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.”
Over the last five years, a phalanx of scientists joined IFA for what they’re calling an “ecoblitz” examination of 900 acres in the Morgan-Monroe/Yellowwood State Forest backcountry. It’s a painstaking inventorying of every species they find. The resulting data will help bolster the IFA’s longstanding mission to “preserve and restore Indiana’s native hardwood ecosystem for the enjoyment of all.”
Since 1996, the nonprofit organization has lobbied legislators and litigated issues in court. It also works to educate and mobilize the public. One way it does that is through hikes and other special events. “The hikes are a way people can get to know our staff and the forests we’re working hard to save,” Stant explains.
Although originally Bloomington-based, IFA moved its headquarters to Indianapolis in 2016 to be closer to the Statehouse. The move—coupled with the efforts of seven staffers and scores of volunteers—has apparently paid off. The Hoosier Environmental Council named IFA its 2017 Organization of the Year, citing the group’s successful protection of Crown Hill Woods, its ongoing grassroots campaign to preserve portions of Yellowwood backcountry, and the exhaustive ecoblitz endeavor—the first comprehensive survey of life ever undertaken within Indiana’s state forestlands.
IFA is using the collected data to influence state decision-makers, including Governor Eric Holcomb. “He agreed to take a hike with us next year,” Stant says, “so we can show him the features we documented that are indicative of such a pristine, undisturbed forest.”
By demonstrating the area’s high conservation value, IFA hopes to persuade the Department of Natural Resources to rethink logging the Morgan-Monroe backcountry area. The group will conduct ecoblitz studies on additional forest tracts in the future to advocate for further preservation. Establishing a north-to-south “corridor of contiguous forest” is another long-term strategic goal.
For more information, visit indianaforestalliance.org.