Forestry in the Hoosier State
In the 1700 and 1800s, Indiana's lush forestland drew tens of thousands of settlers. As the state's population grew, more forestland was cleared to make way for fields and pastures. The nation's want for quality wood products made timber an early and successful commodity - almost too successful. By 1900, Indiana was the leading hardwood producer in the nation. However, this honor came with a price no one wanted to pay. By 1901, forests in Indiana were at their lowest point. Thousands of acres of hardwood forests had been converted to fields and pastures to keep up with the growing demand for timber and farmland. Many of these new fields were on soil types and slopes that were unsuited for agriculture and resulted in almost immediate erosion. As a result, Indiana's original 20 million acres of forests dwindled to less than two million acres in less than 100 years. At that rate, experts predicted there would be little to no forestland remaining by the 1930s.
In March 1901, Governor Durbin signed the statute establishing the Indiana Board of Forestry. This act is considered the birth of the Division of Forestry. The law created one of the first natural resource agencies in the state and in the country.
Today, Indiana has over three million more acres of forestland than it did when the Division of Forestry was created. According to the USFS's most recent Forest Inventory Analysis report, Forests of Indiana: A 1998 Overview, the state's forestland (public and private) has never been stronger or healthier. Indiana's residents use much of Indiana's forestland for a variety of purposes, including recreation, wildlife management, and timber production while sustaining it for the future. It's taken more than just time--forest and forestry in Indiana owes its existence to the foresight and dedication of eleven state foresters; thousands of Division of Forestry employees; the cooperation of professional foresters; private landowners and the support of concerned citizens.
(Source: Indiana Department of Natural Resources. "Background of the Division of Forestry.")