Wetlands valuable, but unprotected
The Star Press
MUNCIE - Wetlands are important to our quality
of life, says Frank Bracken, a Ball State University trustee
and a director of the Indiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
"Wetlands have a value and a function," Bracken said
Tuesday night during a forum recognizing National Geography
Awareness Week at Minnetrista Cultural Center.
Fellow panelist Joe Russell, a farmer, noted that state
and federal governments "were very friendly to draining
wetlands in years past." He added, "The government has
done kind of a flip-flop on wetlands."
According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management,
as a result of draining and filling, wetlands today cover
less than 4 percent of Indiana, down from 25 percent during
According to the National Wetland Inventory, Delaware
County had 5,657 acres of wetlands in the 1980s.
Indiana has no wetland protection laws, said panelist
Emily Kress, director of the division of outdoor recreation
at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
"Not that we haven't tried," she added.
IDEM's attempts to get rules adopted to protect wetlands
have met opposition from Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana
Manufacturers Association, Indiana Builders Association,
utility companies, steel companies, local government,
waste management firms and others.
IDEM's efforts to regulate wetlands also were successfully
challenged in a Marion County court by an Allen County
developer. IDEM appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court,
which has not ruled.
Wetland rule-making by IDEM and the Indiana Water Pollution
Control Board was halted last spring by the Indiana General
Assembly, which referred the issue to the Environmental
Quality Service Council (EQSC) for recommendations.
EQSC issued recommendations this fall.
"There seemed to be a general consenus to establish clear
authority for IDEM to regulate wetlands that are no longer
federally protected," said Tim Method, IDEM deputy commissioner,
in an interview Wednesday.
Nearly 2 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision,
ruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacked authority
to regulate wetlands that were isolated from navigable
waters of the United States.
One of EQSC's recommendations reads, "It is in the public
interest of the state that an isolated wetland statute
be adopted in the next session of the General Assembly
to resolve this uncertainty. If the General Assembly does
not act, the future of Indiana isolated wetlands and land
development policy is likely to be decided in a random,
protracted series of legal fights between IDEM and the
The EQSC also had been asked by legislators to make other
recommendations, including a state wetland policy, which
EQSC determined would not be possible before the coming
session of the Legislature.
Contact news reporter Seth Slabaugh at 213-5834.
Wetlands not wastelands
Once viewed as wastelands, wetlands are now known as nature's
sponge and nature's kidneys. They do the following:
- Soak up flood waters
- Absorb farm fertilizer and septic system runoff
- Provide rest stops for migratory birds
- Provide habitat for rare, threatened and endangered
plants and animals
- Provide places to hunt, trap, fish and view nature
- Provide highly valuable hardwood lumber.