INDIANAPOLIS –  Indiana’s public forests are primarily south of I-70, yet our population and industry are located primarily north of that interstate. Preserving existing public forests while developing new forested areas throughout the state would correct this imbalance.

At the same time, enhancing the urban forest canopies, the linear street forests in our cities and towns, needs to be encouraged. These are long-term components of Indiana’s essential infrastructure that offer significant benefits on at least six levels:
1. Forests are silent workers cleaning the air of harmful substances while providing oxygen. They also are habitat for innumerable plants and animals. Trees stabilize ground water levels, reduce land erosion, and protect properties from flooding. The benefits of forests are local and world-wide. In cities, they not only improve the air we breathe and provide shade to reduce air-conditioning expenses, but they raise property values as a desired amenity.
2. Indiana has an undesirable image as a place lacking natural attractions of mountains and a seacoast. Forests can provide a place rich in opportunities for healthy, stimulating outdoor recreation, exploration, and education. Tourism and corporate investments are determined by the image we project.
3. Hoosier businesses want to attract and retain young, well-educated workers. Many of these workers seek communities offering good housing values as enhanced by trees. They also want diverse, convenient outdoor recreational opportunities. An evolution of forestry management to more contemporary standards, de-emphasizing timber-cutting, along with development of urban and new rural areas, will serve these desires.
4. Forests provide many opportunities for a variety of outdoor recreation activities. Biking and hiking, bird-watching, and photographing animal and topographical features are very popular activities. Increased forested areas offer new opportunities for Hoosier communities to develop existing and new businesses for residents and visitors alike.  
5. Outdoor recreation is prescribed by the medical community as a means toward a healthier lifestyle. Increasingly Hoosiers are learning the value of outdoor recreation as a preventive and remedial aspect of health care. Part of this recognition is due to longer life spans and the costs of health care for chronic illnesses like diabetes.  
6. Our state forests and urban tree canopy offer opportunities for citizens of all ages to understand the natural and economic history of Indiana. Whether through formal education or informal conversation with forest docents, we can learn about glaciers that formed our land, rivers and lakes.
Moreover, we can learn how forests contributed to building our farms, our towns, and our cities. We can appreciate how our industries developed from forest products, continue to support employment, and how today Hoosier products are valued both at home and throughout the world.
Forests, in both rural and urban areas, in great tracts of rugged land, across broad sweeps of formerly agricultural prairie, or lining urban streets, can become Indiana’s image, a magnet for migration, a reason for being back home in Indiana. 

Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or