The US Navy Sustainably Manages This Forest In Indiana, All For A 220-Year-Old Ship

More than brick or steel, this country was built from lumber taken from hardwood forests. And not just homes and railroads, the US Navy became the most powerful sea force in the world with swift and sturdy wooden vessels built from native oak.

The USS Constitution, an early-American commissioned warship that famously defended American shores during the War of 1812, is one of those vessels. She still sails today, crewed by 70 Sailors, And when boards on the deck of this ship show signs of age, they are repaired with white oak from a sustainably managed forest in Indiana.

The USS Constitution is 220 years old.
Source: YouTube/Boston University
The USS Constitution is 220 years old.

The 50,000-acre old growth forest is managed by Naval Support Activity Crane where the Navy sources replacement lumber for the USS Constitution. It’s an important plot of land. According to Trent Osmon, forestry program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Midwest’s Public Works Department (PWD) Crane environmental division, in his piece for the Sextant, “this forest provides some of the richest biodiversity in all of Indiana while also providing valuable resources to the local economy.”

The wooden warship is still repaired with white oak from a forest in Indiana.
Source: YouTube/Boston University
The wooden warship is still repaired with white oak from a forest in Indiana.

Osmon actually describes the forest in vibrant detail. It’c clear the Navy cares for these trees.

“The predawn light reflects an eerie blood-red from the underbellies of the incoming clouds. As the light penetrates the canopy, the last of the nocturnal creatures have returned to their refuge to wait out the coming light. High in the crown of a mighty oak, pacing with anticipation of the coming daylight, a roosted tom turkey shakes the forest awake with his gobble. The incoming weather begins to sway the uppermost branches of the tallest trees, delicately blending with the last calls of the whippoorwill.

Splaying at the feet of a seemingly endless sea of tree trunks are an array of wildflowers, too numerous to count, filling the morning air with the sweet smell of spring. The babbling creek, meandering through the valley, flows as a reminder of the water that formed this landscape over millions of years from an ancient seabed. As the distant thunder rolls, the forest community continues inexorably on, a resilient yet delicate system on which the entire world depends for so much.”

The USS Constitution’s frame was constructed of live oak, while white oak was chosen for its ability to hold tight in hull and deck construction.

The USS Constitution maintains a crew of 70 Navy Sailors.
Source: YouTube/Boston University
The USS Constitution maintains a crew of 70 Navy Sailors.

According to Indiana Connection, even the saw used to cut the oak was designed and built in the Hoosier State.

“In 1989, the Navy asked Wood-Mizer, headquartered in Indianapolis, to design and build a sawmill that could handle the ship’s giant planks and tall masts,” the magazine website reports. “Wood-Mizer’s New Point plant, served electrically by Decatur County REMC, built the saw in 1990. The saw clamps the log in place while the blade moves along a set of rails and down three 24-foot bed extensions.”

This old growth forest is sustainably managed by Naval Support Activity Crane.
Source: US Navy
This old growth forest is sustainably managed by Naval Support Activity Crane.

Some of the oak trees in the Indiana forest are 100 years or older, and they need to be before they are selected to repair the 220-year-old ship. The Navy’s management makes sure the trees remain untouched until they are old enough to be used.

The hull and deck of the ship are white oak. It's frame is live oak.
Source: YouTube/Boston University
The hull and deck of the ship are white oak. It’s frame is live oak.

“Even stands of middle-aged white oak, 70 to 80 years old, are set aside for future restoration efforts of this mighty ship,” Osmon writes. “The management goals of this forest fit perfectly with the ability to provide large white oak trees for this great, heritage rich, cause. Every tree that is harvested from Crane’s forests, whatever the reason, is carefully selected by one of the three foresters on station to ensure the forest is able to maintain its legacy of beauty and productivity. Large areas are set aside to ensure old-growth forests still remain. Wildlife is protected to ensure a healthy, intact, and diverse ecosystem will always remain.”

Oak trees must be more than a century old before they are cut into planks for the USS Constitution
Source: YouTube/Boston University
Oak trees must be more than a century old before they are cut into planks for the USS Constitution.

So long as the Navy remains a steward of the forest, the USS Constitution will serve for centuries more.

“To be a part of something that was touched — literally — by those who founded the country is pretty cool,” Osmon told Indiana Connection. “I feel great knowing we’ll be supporting something that’s so important to the Navy and, in a larger sense, the country.”

Learn more in the video below.

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.

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