Update: As of Feb. 2, 2021, this bill has passed in the Senate, and the effort to oppose it continues in the House.
By Cliff Chapman
Executive Director, Central Indiana Land Trust
I have joined many partners and advocates in conveying my deep concern about SB 389 to Indiana lawmakers and the public. The bill repeals wetlands protections that currently safeguard these critical habitats. As a land trust working in Central Indiana, we enjoy the support of a large constituency of residents, including farmers, landowners, developers and families. We rarely oppose legislation or advocate in the public sphere, and we do not oppose smart development in areas that are not environmentally sensitive. This bill, however, could be so detrimental to water quality and habitat that we feel we must take a stand.
Wetlands offer invaluable habitat, supporting countless species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and pollinators. Not only are wetlands key to sustainable, thriving wildlife habitat, they are critical to human quality of life as well: filtering our drinking water and buffering our communities against flooding. The destruction of wetlands will most certainly create more runoff and flooding in a time of increased rainfall across our state, costing our communities both financially and environmentally.
At one time, wetlands made up about 24% of the Indiana landscape. Today, more than 85% of those acres have been lost. According to the US EPA: “Wetlands play an integral role in the ecology of the watershed. The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water and shelter, especially during migration and breeding.”
Isolated wetlands targeted by this bill are just as key to habitat preservation, groundwater filtration and flood mitigation as wetlands that are connected to waterways. Our strategic conservation plan, which lays out our priorities for land protection in the central third of the state, includes several wetlands as conservation targets. They provide ideal habitat for the state-threatened Virginia rail and several state-endangered plant species as well. Their destruction would be a serious loss for all Hoosiers, who have lost so much of their natural heritage already.
The mission of the Central Indiana Land Trust is to preserve the best of Central Indiana’s natural areas, protecting plants and animals, so Hoosiers can experience the wonder of the state’s natural heritage. This bill, if passed, would be devastating to water quality, wildlife, and communities in Indiana.
That is why we oppose this misguided bill. Please join us in contacting your legislators, as well as your local leaders. Informing mayors, community leaders and other elected officials to oppose SB 389 is critical to having this bill stopped and removed from the legislative agenda.