Sustainable Forestry in Indiana

“From the Whitewater River to the Wabash lay more than 36,000 square miles of the finest forests and prairies, swamps and marshes, barrens and savannas, glades and cliffsides, bogs and fens, seeps and springs, and lakes and streams to be found anywhere in the heartland of North America.”

“Indiana’s original forests were among the finest broadleaved hardwood forests anywhere in the world. Stanley Courter, in his 1891 publication The Forest Trees of Indiana, stated that “forty-two kinds of trees in the Wabash Valley attained a height above 100 feet.” Groves of the finest black walnut trees the world has ever known grew on Indiana’s most fertile soils, some individuals of which were 4 to 6 feet in diameter and 100 to 150 feet high.”

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Giant Tulip trees such as this one (right picture) in Scott County, Indiana, furnished material for pioneer cabins. In 1928, this huge sycamore (left picture) was one of many measured in Gibson County in the Wabash River Bottom and was part of a heavily stocked hardwood forest. It measured 15 x 10 feet in diameter and was 160 feet in height. Learn more about Indiana’s forest history at the Sycamore Land Trust website.

“”Robert Ridgway, an eminent naturalist who studied and photographed the forests of the Lower Wabash River during the 1870s and 1880s, described the stands of timber of that region as “an exceedingly heavy virgin forest, some of the heaviest hardwood forest I have ever seen-as I have twice visited the Tropics (Central America)–covering almost the entire floodplain on the Indiana side.”

“In the words of Amos W Butler in his presidential address to the Indiana Academy of Science in 1895: Over the greater part of this State were spread dense forests of tall trees-heavy timber-whose limbs met and branches were so interwoven that but occasionally could the sunlight find entrance. There was little or no undergrowth in the heaviest woods, and the gloom of those dense shades and its accompanying silence were terribly oppressive. Mile upon mile, days’ Journey upon days’ journey, stretched these gloomy shades amid giant columns and green arches reared by nature through centuries of time.

Quotes taken from “The Indiana that Was.”

Forest Steward Council (FSC certified lumber)

Learn more about what it means to certify your forest through FSC and what it means to purchase FSC certified wood and paper products. http://www.nature.org/greenliving/gogreen/everydayenvironmentalist/buy-fsc-its-good-wood.xml

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Cope Environmental Center only used wood in its 7,000 square foot education center that was FSC certified or was locally reclaimed. The education center is made of FSC black spruce beams harvested and manufactured by Nordic in Northern Ontario, Canada. It is also composed of Roy O Martin FSC plywood that was harvested in Lousiana as well as Georgia Pacific OSB that was sustainably harvested in Ontario. Our interior cabinets were partially composed of Columbia Forest Products that are formaldehyde free, FSC certified, and harvested in the hills of Virginia and North Carolina.

Learn more about Indiana Forest Facts (Source: Indiana DNR)

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Little Cypress Swamp in Knox County contained these “average sized” specimens of cypress in 1888 that were often 6 feet in diameter above the swell. – See more at: https://sycamorelandtrust.org/historical-significance-nature-indiana/#sthash.yYwlAxnE.dpuf

Sustainable Forestry Journal Articles by Purdue University

“The Indiana that Was” by Mario Jackson;

Content reproduced with permission from Indiana University Press. The following essay was published in The Natural Heritage of Indiana, copyright 1997, Indiana University Press.

(Section: Forests) Indiana’s original forests were among the finest broadleaved hardwood forests anywhere in the world. Stanley Courter, in his 1891 publication The Forest Trees of Indiana, stated that “forty-two kinds of trees in the Wabash Valley attained a height above 100 feet.” Groves of the finest black walnut trees the world has ever known grew on Indiana’s most fertile soils, some individuals of which were 4 to 6 feet in diameter and 100 to 150 feet high. The General Land Office surveyors recognized the close correlation between soil fertility and the presence of black walnut trees when they entered such land descriptions into their field notes as “sugar tree and walnut land, excellent for growing corn.” Most were cut and burned to clear the land for crops.

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Robert Ridgway, an eminent naturalist who studied and photographed the forests of the Lower Wabash River during the 1870s and 1880s, described the stands of timber of that region as “an exceedingly heavy virgin forest, some of the heaviest hardwood forest I have ever seen-as I have twice visited the Tropics (Central America) covering almost the entire floodplain on the Indiana side.”

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Ridgway measured several sycamores at 25 to 30 feet in circumference with overall heights of 160 to almost 200 feet. Several cypress stumps were measured in Knox County at 9 and 10 feet in diameter above their buttressed bases. He also measured a tulip tree, now rarely encountered on floodplains, that taped 25 feet in girth, 91 feet to the first limb, and 190 feet total height. The maximum diameter he recorded for a tulip tree was 11 feet; the average diameter of 18 measured specimens was 6.2 feet. Heights ranged from 110 to 168 feet, averaging 143.5. Ridgway’s measurements were of felled trees and cut stumps, so we can be confident of his data.

In contrast, the largest tulip trees known presently in the state are a pair of “sister trees” standing only about 30 feet apart in Hemmer Woods, Gibson County, which were measured by the author during the late 1960s at nearly 5 feet in diameter and just over 150 feet tall. Presently, they are very old, declining in vigor, and may not live much longer.
One of the most famous trees of the original forest was an enormous Ohio buckeye, which in life grew in the southeast corner of Rush County and was said to have been, when standing, 27 feet 9 inches in circumference and 90 feet to the first limb. It was felled and crafted into the celebrated buckeye canoe of William Henry Harrison’s presidential campaign of 1840. The huge canoe was pulled about the Midwest by six white horses bearing the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Other magnificent trees (parts of which still survive) from the original forest include two majestic sycamores. A photograph of one served as the frontispiece of Charlie Deam’s 1953 volume Trees of Indiana. It grew near Worthington in Greene County, and was reported at 42 feet 3 inches in circumference in 1915. Sections of the trunk are preserved in Worthington. A 1936 article featuring Indiana in National Geographic magazine contains a photograph of a giant sycamore stump reported to be 56 feet in circumference which once stood near Kokomo. In life it must have dwarfed even the Worthington specimen, and is larger in girth than any forest-grown temperate hardwood tree that I am aware of. Its stump was moved to a Kokomo city park many years ago for preservation and public viewing, and still exists.

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But the most impressive feature of the primeval forests of Indiana was not the size or height of the trees. Rather, it was the dense shade that all but excluded sunlight. In the words of Amos W Butler in his presidential address to the Indiana Academy of Science in 1895: Over the greater part of this State were spread dense forests of tall trees-heavy timber-whose limbs met and branches were so interwoven that but occasionally could the sunlight find entrance. There was little or no undergrowth in the heaviest woods, and the gloom of those dense shades and its accompanying silence were terribly oppressive. Mile upon mile, days’ Journey upon days’ journey, stretched these gloomy shades amid giant columns and green arches reared by nature through centuries of time.”

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Within the penumbra of this dense forest canopy, the first settlers established their homesteads. Those of us accustomed to living in well-lighted homes with expansive views and traveling rapidly across a largely uncanopied Indiana cannot fully appreciate how much their feeling of confinement, and being at the mercy of the wilderness, must have depressed their spirits in that solitary existence. Conrad Richter expressed it well in his book The Trees (1940):  All night the wind rose. Now it came and now it went. This was a lull. You could hear the trees dripping. Then far off you could catch the next wave coming for you through the woods …. The wind and rain let up about dawn …. Then the girl saw that last night’s storm had stripped the leaves from half the trees. Her mother looked like a half-blinded human that had lived all summer in a cave. She stood there peering up through the branches of an ash at sky so blue it hurt just to look at it. “I never thought I’d live to see this day” she muttered ..

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Small wonder the dense forest that is now Shades State Park was called the “Shades of Death” in the early days.
The pioneer’s first work was to cut away enough trees to build a cabin, preferably near a spring which purled from the nearby hillside, and remote enough that you “could not see the smoke from any neighbor’s chimney” Otherwise there might not be enough wild game to support the large pioneer family until land was cleared and crops raised. To create a wilderness home, they broad-axed cabin timbers, raised a ridgepole, fashioned a roof of froe-split red oak staves, then built a mud-and-stick fireplace chimney so that venison and wild turkeys could be roasted over their hearth. All the while they were itching to begin actual clearing that would “let some daylight into the swamp.”

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It is difficult for us to imagine in our world of instant comforts what having a home meant to the frontier family, on their own deep within the wilderness. Just a roof, walls, and fire meant survival, the difference between life and death. Again, Richter said it best: Sayward watched her mother’s eyes take a turn around the cabin. The firelight played sociable fingers on roof and rafters. The logs smelled clean, and the beds of new leaves made you sleepy. Everything was spick and fine as a newborn babe in a log cradle. Piles of knobby hickory nuts and black and white walnuts lay hulled in a corner. … They had a roof over their heads and a bag of meal hanging from the rafters. A buckskin door weighted with a short green log shut out the dark and snow. -Conrad Richter, The Trees (1940)
As each cabin was built, it foreshadowed a clearing which extended more and more each year. For the most part, the axe and fire performed the work. Great deadenings created during the winter months gave promise of lively logrollings the following spring. Even the giant tuliptrees, red and white oaks, black walnuts, ashes, wild cherries, beeches, and sweet gums were carried on handspikes, or were rolled into heaps in the ravines by the hickory-muscled frontiersmen and their leathery sons, and burned. Across Indiana, fires by the thousands burned day and night for weeks on end, with wood smoke turning the spring skies a sallow yellow. Wood also served every need and demand the human mind could make on the timberlands, used throughout the pioneers’ lifetimes from cradle to coffin. Thus were Indiana’s forests removed.

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But how do you essentially eradicate a wilderness of 36,291 square miles in three score years and ten? Within a single human lifetime or three human generations? In the words of my dear friend the late Dr. Robert O. Petty of Wabash College: How do you make a cornfield out of a forest? How do you make a town? How do you clear away trees five feet through’ and towering one hundred and fifty feet? Forty acres, eighty, a section, a county-how do you “cut the top off’ all the flatland between the Cumberlands and the Mississippi? Our minds can only ache to comprehend. And how do you do it with only axes, grubbing hoes, horses, and oxen? (It may be of interest to the reader that most of Indiana was cleared before even the crosscut saw came into general usage, much less the chain saw.) In the words of my late neighbor John Reynolds, “They worked different then than we do now,” when he described how his great-grandparents pit-sawed, by hand, ash logs into rough boards to floor the stone house they were building in 1845, and which still stands on my Ripley County farm.

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John Perlin, a Harvard University professor of forestry, in his thought-provoking book A Forest journey, documented the course of human civilization in terms of available forest resources. He summarized that “every human settlement begins by consumption of the forest surrounding it.” Indiana was no exception. We built a state by consuming nature. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.” And, I might add, “on an anvil called progress.”
If the 20 million acres of forestland believed extant in Indiana in 1790 contained 110 trees above four inches in diameter on an average acre (based on a 108.4 average density for 28 high-quality old-growth stands still occurring in the state), then prior to settlement, Indiana must have contained approximately 2.2 billion trees, or about 400 trees for each Hoosier resident today. An original forest of 2.2 billion trees, harboring a deer herd of perhaps 400,000, but only 10,000 to 12,000 wolves-this must be an object lesson in food-chain structure and dynamics of wilderness ecosystems!

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How do you consume a wiIderness resource of 2.2 billion trees, two-thirds of which were cut down before 1870? Assuming that relatively few trees were removed prior to 1800, by either Native Americans or pioneers, it would require the cutting of an average of 20 million trees annually for 70 years-a rate almost equal to that of an average-sized county per year, or more than 7,000 acres per day, on average. Our ancestors did to the Indiana wilderness what is presently occurring in the tropical forests of Brazil, Borneo, Sumatra, New Guinea, Zaire, and elsewhere. But did we as a human species gain much ecological wisdom from what our forebears did to Indiana?

More Journal Articles on Forestry and Trees!