State Rep. Tonya Pfaff: We need to save our wetlands

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INDIANAPOLIS - The op-ed column below was issued today by State Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute):

In Vigo County during the last 15 years, we have learned about the importance of our wetlands. Thanks to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Healthy Rivers Initiative and the hard work of county officials, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and scores of local citizens, the Wabashiki Wetlands are restoring thousands of acres that were once wetlands to their natural state. 

Indiana has lost 85% of its wetlands and now Senate Bill 389, which is currently under discussion in the House Environmental Affairs Committee, is poised to remove state protection from the vast majority of the 700,000 remaining acres, which are spread across Indiana's 21 million acres.

There are three reasons wetlands are important to preserve in our state.

For one, they are a vital part of nature’s cleansing system, filtering water before it gets into streams and our underground aquifer. The Indiana State Chamber of Commerce has identified adequate clean water supply as a major issue for the economic future of our state.

Indiana’s wetlands, including isolated wetlands, are also important to wildlife habitats. Hoosier duck hunters should be concerned about what this bill will lead to—fewer places to hunt in our state where creeping urbanism is already an issue.

We also need wetlands when it comes to preventing water overflow. They are known to be highly effective at protecting our lands from flooding, operating as nature's sponges that soak up excess water.

Governor Holcomb is on record with his concerns about this bill. As our nation and world confront the problem of climate change, diminishing our wetlands will only make solving these problems harder.

Some Hoosier farmers and developers have criticized some isolated instances of overzealous state regulation. That happens, but the answer is not to take a meat cleaver to the problem.

Ducks Unlimited, an Indiana nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of wetlands, has testified against the bill as it is currently written and has suggested that we study this issue further, as has the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Within the current limitations placed upon this session by the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have the time to take due diligence on this issue. Therefore, we should instead hand over the topic to a summer study committee. Study committees are ideal for complex, broad-spanning issues such as this, allowing us to closely examine the matters at hand and listen to the voices of everyone who will be affected. They are specially equipped to produce well-vetted, bipartisan legislation to be considered in the next session.

That is the proper place to address these concerns. Hoosiers cannot afford the side effects of a rushed and rash response.

In the last 300 years, wetlands have gone from covering 25% of the total area of the state to less than 4%. The seemingly harmless decisions we're making now will only increase the fragility of our already vulnerable wetlands. Though it might help businesses break ground and save a few tax dollars now, it will cost Hoosiers a great deal more later.

Let’s let the governor, IDEM and DNR employ a scalpel to solve problems, not create a whole new problem for keeping our waters clean and in good supply, providing habitat for our wildlife, and recreation opportunities for our hunters, fishermen and outdoorsmen.

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