By David Loomis
INDIANA – It was a happy Earth Day for Friends of White’s Woods, the local advocacy group founded to preserve and protect the 245-acre community forest straddling White Township and Indiana Borough. A state agency spent much of the past year reviewing the township’s plan to “manage” the forest and just concluded that the plan, um, flunked.
It’s not that the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry (BOF) couldn’t find something nice to say. The agency’s nine-page March 23 report used the word “commend” eight times. For example, the report summary’s first paragraph reads, “The Bureau of Forestry commends White Township for taking an active role and approach to managing its community forests and trees.”
That’s a little like commending the government of Brazil for taking an active approach in managing the Amazon rainforest. The township’s plan would remove as much as 56 percent of White’s Woods’ trees, according to one estimate.
CONSIDER a similar word — “recommend.” It appears 30 times in the report. The report summary’s second paragraph, for example, reads, “The BOF recommends the Township revise its Forest Stewardship Plan to fully maximize its role for helping to achieve community values and interests.” And: “We would not recommend or support the proposed ‘shelterwood’ harvest as planned without additional consideration and planning….” And: “We would not recommend this practice…. Mulching this entire tract is highly concerning and not recommended.”
Or the word “familiar.” For example: “This is not a typical treatment with which we are familiar, and are highly concerned about unintended consequences.” And: “Sustainable Objective Timber Harvest …. We are not familiar with this terminology.”
The forest bureau’s carefully worded report found more to criticize (constructively, it assured) than to commend. And it recommended that the township revise its White’s Woods plan to correct its shortcomings.
“The BOF recommends the Township revise its Forest Stewardship Plan to fully maximize its role for helping to achieve community values and interests,” the report read.
SOME STAKEHOLDERS are shy about talking. Township supervisors Chairman George E. Lenz declined comment while the lawsuit is being litigated. Foresters linked to the current White’s Woods plan and to an earlier plan either did not respond or requested time to study the forestry bureau’s report, respectively.
Meanwhile, township officials can heed the recommendations of the forestry bureau, the provisions of the state’s Sunshine Act and the spirit of Earth Day by pledging and performing full transparency in the selection of members for a study panel to revise the township’s stewardship plan.
Or as the state forestry bureau’s report put it to township officials: “Along with concerns about some of the proposed management activities, we are concerned about what appears to us as a disconnect among the stated goals, the proposed management activities and practices, and the wishes and desires of the public.”
For township officials to embrace those concerns would be commendable.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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