The Department of Natural Resources sold large portions of Indiana's Yellowwood State Park to a logging company this week, despite the fact that people interested in conserving the forest offered considerably more money.
On Thursday, an auction of the forest was won by Hamilton Logging of Sullivan County for just $108,785. However, the conversationalist owners of Distinctive Hardwood Floors and Castlewood Inc. were willing to offer $150,000 to preserve the trees for 100 years. The company was backed up by hundreds of protesters who also wanted the forest preserved.
Sadly, the highest and most honorable offer was ignored and the DNR opted to sell to a company that has every intention of cutting down the trees. While there has been no official statement on why they ignored the best possible option, many have speculated that the conservationists were ignored in the auction because they were not licensed timber buyers, a technicality that likely prevents environmentalists from buying and preserving land in most public land auctions of this nature.
Daniel Antes, founder of Distinctive Hardwood Floors in Brown County told the IndyStar, "We want to preserve this public legacy. Our goal was to get the sale to stop and give DNR the funding they're looking for and (they) actually got substantially less than we offered. This is our land, we the people. It's public land. It should not benefit a very small sector of society."
Antes also said that they plan on attempting to offer the logging company a profit on the deal if they would be willing to preserve the forest. It is estimated that roughly 1,730 trees over 300 acres were sold in the auction, according to the timber sale notice.
John Seifert, state forester and director of the Division of Forestry dodged the question when asked for a comment by the IndyStar.
"We have to look at this as an ecosystem. We have to use the best science, and that's what we're doing," Seifert said in response to questions about the sale.
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The sale was also opposed by 228 scientists from across Indiana who signed a petition urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to stop the sale.
"They just sold these trees at $68 a tree. I mean that is not a profit. I'm still hopeful. Holcomb could stop this right now, and all he has to do is make a phone call. I want to know where is he right now? The people have spoken, scientists have spoken, there's so many reasons why this matters," Leslie Bishop, a retired biologist and Brown County resident said.
Logging of the forest has been so controversial that many companies actually declined to bid on the land because of the bad press that it would create for them, which may explain why the land was won for such a low price.
Jane Ellis, executive director of the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau was one of the many Indiana residents involved in the effort to stop the logging.
In a letter to Holcolmb last month she wrote, "As one of Indiana's most forested areas, we value the natural beauty that surrounds us, as well as understand the importance it has upon our local economy. Not only is this [logging] hindering interest and visitation to Yellowwood, but if it continues, it could possibly negatively impact Brown County's notoriety as a premier outdoor destination, as well as revenue generated by tourism."
The Indiana Forest Alliance is seeking to have the sale blocked and other protesters are putting pressure on the winning bidder to accept the offer for preservation, but it seems that both of those last ditch efforts will be ignored.