Indiana can't afford to lose many more wetlands, and a pair
of bills in the General Assembly threaten further encroachment
by developers. Lawmakers should strengthen - not undermine
- them when amendments are considered in their respective
committees, beginning today.
The Journal Gazette
Drainage boards, power companies,
builders, landfill owners, farmers and steel manufacturers
are lining up behind a bill sponsored by Sen. Beverly
Gard, R-Greenfield. The Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League
and Hoosier Environmental Council are among her bill's
critics. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management
and Indiana Department of Natural Resources have also
called for major changes in the legislation.
Another bill, by Rep. James
L. Bottorff, D-Jeffersonville, contains a few more helpful
provisions than Gard's. But both fall short of what needs
to be done.
The bills focus on isolated
wetlands, defined as pools, bogs and other swampy areas
with no surface connection to lakes, streams and other
navigable waters. Isolated wetlands are found mostly in
patches of less than 10 acres in the northern part of
The percentage of Hoosier
land occupied by wetlands has dropped to about 3.5 percent
today. Isolated wetlands constitute about a third of the
Wetlands matter because of
their importance as fish and wildlife habitats, in maintaining
groundwater supplies and filtering sediment and pollution
away from groundwater.
The bills' failure to adequately
protect smaller wetlands is one of their major weaknesses,
especially when more than 90 percent of the state's wetlands
are one acre or less.
"The thing to remember is
that the size of the wetland is not closely related to
the importance of its function," said Tim Maloney, executive
director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
The bills also set up a flawed
system for designating some isolated wetlands for stricter
regulation than others. Wetlands are divided into three
classes, based on subjective and vague standards for determining
their quality and how much they have been disturbed by
human activity. Wetlands completely undisturbed and deemed
of highest quality would be covered by the strictest standards.
Unfortunately, Maloney believes only a few will qualify.
The rest would be under looser rules.
"You still can have valuable
wetlands performing an important function, even if they
have had some level of disturbance," Maloney said.
The bills are a response
to two recent court cases, one originating in Fort Wayne
that went against state and federal regulators. The cases
put pressure on lawmakers and regulators to pass legislation
spelling out how much power the state should have over
isolated wetlands. Failure to do so will invite more litigation.
Gard's bill will be considered
by the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee today. Bottorff's
will be reviewed Wednesday by the House Environmental
Both bills can serve a valuable
purpose in defining state regulatory authority. But first
they must be amended to reflect the importance of vanishing
wetlands to the state's environment.