By Terri Dee
Indiana News Service
Indiana is losing wetlands even as the state has made some effort to protect them. Wetlands provide wildlife habitat, purify and recharge groundwater for drinking, and reduce flood risks by storing water. However, Indiana has lost up to 90% of its wetlands. The legislature provided some protection for the rest in 2021, but last year, a special task force found that shrinking wetlands are having significant negative effects on the environment.
Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy at the Hoosier Environmental Council says lawmakers should be doing more.
“Now we have data showing that our state’s wetlands law is not doing much in the way of protection. So, the Indiana General Assembly certainly could make changes,” Frank said. “They could also make changes to provide incentives for landowners who preserve or who restore wetlands.”
Indiana has about 800,000 wetland acres, down from more than 5 million 200 years ago – and has no statewide plan to manage them. A poll by the Audubon Society found more than half the people surveyed in Indiana said they would prioritize protecting water sources and habitats over landowners’ and developers’ rights.
Frank contends another governing body of ‘tossing the ball’ rather than protecting wetlands. This spring, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricted which bodies of water can be protected under the federal Clean Water Act. She said the decision dropped the amount of Indiana wetlands with federal protection from 80%, to 20%.
“Now we’re in a position where Indiana’s remaining wetlands have very little federal protection and very little state protection,” Frank continued. “The Supreme Court’s decision basically said that the fate of the wetlands is up to the states.”
Since then, attempts have been made in the Indiana General Assembly to make wetlands protection even harder. But the Audubon Society poll also found almost 75% of residents surveyed would have a “less favorable” impression of a state lawmaker who voted to relax wetland protections.