NASHVILLE, Ind. -- About 200 protesters chanted "Stop the sale!" as state officials oversaw Thursday's auction of timber rights on 300 acres of two state forests in southern Indiana.
The rights to about 1,700 trees at Yellowwood State Forest near Nashville sold for nearly $109,000, which was far less than the $150,000 that the Department of Natural Resources expected before environmental activists began calling on Gov. Eric Holcomb to cancel the auction.
Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance, said he was disappointed about the sale of the old-growth timber in Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe state forests.
"The amount of forest in the state forests that is this old is so small and is so precious," Stant said. "It's such an important part of our natural heritage to have forests that go back in time before we were here."
One bid presented by Daniel Antes, founder of Distinctive Hardwood Floors in Brown County, offered $150,000 with the intention of preserving the trees for 100 years.
"Our goal was to get the sale to stop and give DNR the funding they're looking for and actually got substantially less than we offered," Antes said. "We want to preserve this public legacy."
Jack Seifert, director of the DNR's Division of Forestry, declined to comment about the offer, but Antes said it wasn't considered because only licensed timber buyers were eligible to bid. Antes said the group would discuss whether its offer could sway the winning bidder.
State officials have defended the timber sale as selective logging that's part of a well-researched forest management plan.
"We have to look at this as an ecosystem," Seifert said. "We're at 30,000 feet, not 10,000 or 5,000 feet."
It will be up to the timber company to decide when to begin the logging work, which must be completed by the end of March, DNR spokesman Marty Benson said.
Those at Thursday's protest held signs reading "A forest is community not a commodity" and "Save our trees." Some protesters have set up an encampment on private property near the logging area.
Retired Earlham College biology professor Leslie Bishop attended the protest, a week after she delivered to the governor's office a letter signed by nearly 230 Indiana scientists asking that the woodland be protected. She argued that the logging could hurt tourism in Brown County and that fewer trees can lead to poorer air quality.
"They just sold these trees at $68 a tree," Bishop said. "I mean that is not a profit."
This story has been corrected to reflect that the protester encampment is on private land, not in the logging area.