Fires fuel the mission to work locally to achieve a global impact

By Cliff Chapman / president and CEO, Central Indiana Land Trust

This summer I attended a concert at a venue I’m old enough to still call Deer Creek. I’ve seen dozens of shows there through the years. This was one of the best. But it will stand out in my mind for something altogether different than music: smoke.

Like many people, I was affected by the Canadian wildfires and the hazy skies earlier this summer. My eyes burned, as did – and still does – the fire inside of me to do something about fires like those. And the ones that devastated Maui. And the ones still raging in the Pacific Northwest as the October issue of Urban Times goes to press.

I get it. We can feel powerless sitting thousands of miles away from catastrophes like these. But there are things we can do right here at home to combat the global climate changes that are behind so many of these fires.

Saving forests and planting trees in Indiana makes so much sense when it comes to scrubbing carbon from the air. That’s because our soils and meteorological conditions are nearly perfect for growing trees. And we grow hardwoods, which are long-lived – and fire-resistant.

Elsewhere, it’s possible to save large tracts of forests at lower costs than here in Indiana. Protecting and planting evergreen forests is relatively cheap. The land where they grow is not productive for farming, and the timber is not very valuable. Therefore, from a conservation perspective, one could argue you get more bang for your buck.

I’m here to tell you that is wrong. A recent CarbonPlan study of six forests in California’s carbon trading system showed the devastating effect of fires. Because of wildfires, those forests had released 95 percent of the carbon they were intended to sequester.

I saw a friend at my concert this summer. We hugged each other and then immediately talked about the air quality, not the performance. That’s how bad the air was. The burning forests whose smoke were we breathing? They were evergreen forests. They’re susceptible to devastating canopy fires, as we are seeing in Canada.

We can make a difference here. Our land is still relatively inexpensive compared with other parts of the country. And even though saving forests with oaks and hickories (or planting them) is more expensive than saving boreal forests or mountain landscapes with evergreens, our oaks live over four hundred years. They can survive droughts and floods. And fires. They should be climate-resilient in an uncertain future.

Together, let’s keep this fire burning within us and make a difference for our planet, right here in Indiana. 

Headquartered on the Old Northside, the Central Indiana Land Trust stewards nature preserves throughout the central third of the state. For information on tree plantings and other initiatives, visit

PHOTO ABOVE: Betley Woods tree-planting, as seen from above. LAND TRUST PHOTO