While we appreciate the VA’s efforts to possibly conserve some of the larger trees on this tract, the larger fundamental issue is over the proposed destruction of this tract of forest when the environmental documentation for doing so by the VA that is required under the National Environmental Policy Act clearly states that no alternative sites for the national cemetery expansion were examined. We believe this law requires an examination of alternatives when a federal agency makes such a proposal.
The issue is over the whole forest found on this tract, which is exceedingly rare to find in the state of Indiana today and not just several of the larger trees in it.
As far as the opinion of state forester Jack Seifert that the site is not an old growth forest, there are at least two scientists who have studied the site and stated in writing that the forest at stake is a presettlement, old growth forest of high quality. We believe these two scientists, botanist Dr. Rebecca Dolan of Butler University and state ecologist Tom Swinford, who is now the assistant director of the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves, have studied the site more closely than Mr. Seifert and are more qualified to testify about its quality as an old growth forest.
We also note that the VA’s environmental assessment [PDF] pointed out several times that the forest in question “appears to have remained undisturbed for a very long time; possibly more than 300 years given the size and probable age of some of the trees. . . . This is a relatively large, old growth forest within the Crown Hill Cemetery property near downtown Indianapolis” (see this quote on page 5).
IFA is currently engaged in an extensive debate with Mr. Seifert over the management of the state forests. We have disagreed with a plethora of his statements about forests in Indiana. We would agree that old growth forests are still quite rare in Indiana, which underscores why we are so concerned about the proposal to remove the forest at the north end of Crown Hill Cemetery for the expansion of the national veterans cemetery when there are clear alternative sites that could accommodate this expansion without causing any of this harm.
IFA has scheduled a tree inventory of the site on October 30.