BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – The US Forest Service is moving forward with plans to log or conduct controlled burns in parts of the Hoosier National Forest, despite fears the project could spoil the drinking water supply for more than 100,000 people.
Environmental groups and officials in southern Indiana’s Monroe County sued the federal agency in 2020, alleging it violated federal laws when it decided to proceed with logging and controlled burning on more than 15,000 acres in northwest Jackson County.
Opponents fear the project could affect the water quality of Lake Monroe, a reservoir that supplies all of adjacent Monroe County and provides drinking water for about 120,000 people.
Although a federal judge temporarily halted the project last April after finding that the Forest Service had not fully assessed the “environmental impact on Lake Monroe,” a later Forest Service report found that no corrections or revisions to its original environmental assessment were necessary.
The forest service then announced in early December that it planned to proceed with the project in the Hoosier National Forest, which covers about 204,000 acres in nine counties in southern Indiana, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Opponents say the Forest Service’s latest report does not address their concerns that logging and burning work will cause nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, to leach into the lake and potentially cause harmful algal blooms.
“We are very upset about this,” said Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We don’t think they complied. It is a gross violation.”
But Hoosier National Forest district ranger Chris Thornton disagrees. He wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to federal court that concerns about the project had already been addressed in the service’s original report and that “no further information or clarification was needed.”
“We are releasing the (report) not because we acknowledge that our initial analysis was flawed, but to comply with the district court’s order and to expedite implementation,” the federal agency said in its report.
According to the report, the Forest Service will take steps to mitigate any adverse impacts while logging and controlled burning are carried out and that failure to proceed with the project could result in decline in the forest’s oak-hickory ecosystems and a lack of diversity in the landscape . The aim of the forest management project is to “increase the resilience and structure of forest areas”.
One of the groups opposing the Forest Service’s plan is Friends of Lake Monroe. Its president, Sherry Mitchell-Bruker, said in a letter to Thornton that the only way to ensure there is no “significant impact” on Lake Monroe “is to leave the forest intact and avoid logging and burning.” in the Lake Monroe watershed”.
Stant told The Indianapolis Star that opponents of the project have met and are considering whether to take further legal action.
For copyright information, contact the distributor of this item, The Indianapolis Star.