EDITORIAL: Wetlands need more protection, not less

Jan. 31—The state Legislature is chipping away again at regulations designed to protect Indiana's wetlands.

House Bill 1383, authored by Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, would reduce the number of protected areas by altering the definition of Class III wetlands, those that have rare and important ecological characteristics as well as beneficial hydrological impact.

Essentially, Morrison's bill removes some wetlands from protected Class III status so that developers can more easily purchase, drain and build on the land.

The bill would eliminate rule-making requirements that have long protected ecosystems dependent on wetlands. Development of such lands can expose surrounding areas to greater flood risks while threatening the quality of drinking water.

The bill passed the House, 64-30, on Jan. 23 and has been referred in the Senate to the Committee on Environmental Affairs.

If the bill advances to the floor, we strongly encourage state senators to reject it.

Wetlands are so important to the ecological health of the state, contributing in the following ways and more:

—Providing the most cost-effective flood control infrastructure

—Filtering and purifying water

—Replenishing groundwater for wells

—Mitigating erosion

—Providing habitat for wetland-dependent creatures and plants

The General Assembly should be expanding wetland protections rather than reducing them.

Instead, in the name of new construction, the Republican-dominated legislature has a recent record of eroding wetlands regulation.

In 2021, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law legislation that stripped away some state protections.

Only about 4% of Indiana's original wetlands remain today. Just 20% of those are under federal protection.

Is it too much to ask that the state reserve from commercial and residential development what remains in order to protect the environment?