Keep up with what the Indiana Parks Alliance is doing on behalf of Indiana state parks and state-owned nature preserves.
• May 27, 2021
Indiana Parks Alliance’s first virtual event: March 13, 2021. “Outdoors in Indiana: The Inside Story.” A panel of regional and national experts present on:
– Effects of the pandemic on the usage of natural areas
– Making natural areas more accessible to a diverse public
– Updates on Indiana State Parks, Nature Preserves and the DNR
• April 27, 2021
IPA Joins Over 100 Organizations in Asking Gov. Holcomb to Veto Anti-Wetland Bill.
Click here to read the letter and see the signatories.
• March 29, 2021
In response to the proposed SB 389 wetlands bill, IPA has joined 43 other conservation organizations and governmental entities in submitting a letter of opposition to all members of the Indiana General Assembly. Click here to read the letter.
• February 14, 2021
Draining the Swamp
Bill undercuts environmental safeguards
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
“Big Yellow Taxi”
Indiana once had a natural feature unmatched in the country. It was the Grand Kankakee Marsh, the largest inland wetland in America.
Formed by the same retreating glacier that gave northeastern Indiana hundreds of freshwater lakes, the Grand Kankakee stretched along the Kankakee River’s twisting, winding path from South Bend to Momence, Illinois. Its estimated size ranged from a half million to 1 million acres.
It was about the size of Rhode Island and dubbed “The Everglades of the North” and “Chicago’s Food Pantry.”
Likened by some to the Serengeti Plain of Africa, the Grand Kankakee was home to fish of all sorts, ducks and geese, cranes and herons and other migratory birds, otters and beavers, bison and deer, and an abundance of plant life that included trees, grasses, sedges, and wild rice.
The massive marshland and its resources were attractive first to Native Americans, then in succession by French traders, trappers, frontier farmers, hunters from across the country and Europe, and eventually developers.
It wasn’t the only wetland in Indiana; just the largest of an estimated 5.6 million acres thought to be here at the time of European settlement.
Then came the federal Swamp Land Act of 1850 and this incredible resource was destroyed.
The law allowed state governments to acquire federally owned swampland on the promise they would transform it into agricultural or other “productive” uses.
Equipped with the law and heavy machinery, hundreds of ditches were dug to drain the marsh, but the river didn’t yield. So audacious were Indiana’s efforts that it paid work crews to breach a natural limestone dam across the border in Illinois to help speed water flow. The fatal blow to the marsh began around 1900 with a 20-year project that pulled 250 miles of curves and bends out of the Kankakee River and left a 90-mile ditch.
Similar fates befell the Great Black Swamp east of Fort Wayne, the Great Marsh southwest of Fort Wayne, Goose Pond and Beehunter Marsh in Greene County, and the Limberlost Swamp and Loblolly Marsh made world famous through the writings of Indiana author Gene Stratton-Porter.
Smaller wetlands were not shielded from development either. In time 85% of the original wetland inventory of Indiana was gone, with some estimates of a continuing 5% annual loss of what remains.
The corner turned in favor of wetlands when President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and soon after Congress passed the Clean Water Act. Wetlands could no longer be filled in without a permit.
In 1990, the federal Farm Bill provided private landowners a welcome tool for dealing with wetlands on their property – the Wetlands Reserve Program that offered technical expertise and financial compensation to restore wetlands in exchange for a property easement. More than 14,500 voluntary agreements between landowners and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service restored more than 2.5 million acres of wetlands across the country.
Conservation-minded organizations like Little River Wetlands Project also benefited from working with the NRCS. The result – Eagle Marsh, an 831-acre restored wetland on the southwest corner of Fort Wayne that continues to grow in size while educating the public on why wetlands are so important.
Other restoration initiatives have revived significant wetland sites like Goose Pond and Beehunter Marsh, and the Limberlost/Loblolly complex in Adams and Jay counties.
These larger properties and hundreds of smaller isolated wetlands serve vital ecological roles, including habitat for fish and wildlife, a collection point for storing flood waters and farm field runoff, a filtering system for sediments in chemicals that improves water quality and recharges groundwater supplies.
It might seem like an isolated one-acre wetland doesn’t stand up to the value of larger wetlands, but they do. The EPA estimates that a single acre of wetland can store up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater.
No wonder wetlands are called the land’s natural kidneys.
But these valuable resources took a kidney punch from the Indiana Senate on Feb. 1. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of World Wetlands Day, state senators by a 29-19 vote passed S.B. 389 to override existing state law protecting most of Indiana’s remaining wetlands.
It’s a rare moment when a state agency is allowed to testify on pending legislation. In this instance, both the Department of Environmental Management and Department of Natural Resources were granted permission to speak against S.B. 389. Dozens of environmental and conservation groups added their objections to the bill.
It fell on deaf ears.
No surprise considering the fact S.B. 389, as reported by the Indianapolis Star, was authored by three senators who “run companies that are members of the Indiana Builders Association, the group leading the lobbying effort for the bill.”
Unless S.B. 389 is stopped in the House of Representatives or vetoed by Gov. Eric Holcomb, destruction of Indiana’s remaining valuable wetlands will resume.
And for what purpose?
As Joni Mitchell sang years ago, “to pave paradise, put up a parking lot.”
This article first appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Phil Bloom is the former outdoors editor of The Journal Gazette, former communications director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and a volunteer member of the board of directors for Indiana Parks Alliance and the Little River Wetlands Project.
• September 15, 2020
The Indiana Conservation Alliance recently release their Investing in Conservation bulletin and as an active participant in this coalition of conservation organizations we wanted to provide this information to our members and web page visitors. Click Here to read the Investing in Conservation bulletin.
• November 19, 2019
Indiana Parks Alliance announced today that they were the recipient of a $6,000 donation from IU Health as a result of the hospital’s Step to Give Challenge. The Step to Give Challenge was part of their 2019 Healthy Results challenges for their employees. Participating employees chose one of three organizations, and then “voted” for their choice by registering steps on their Fitbit. The one with the most votes/steps during September and October was declared the winner of a $6,000 donation from IU Health. IPA was recently notified that they were the winner of the contest, and thus the recipient of the top donation. The other two organizations Feeding America and Connect2Help, were still winners, as they both also received donations from IU Health.
IPA is appreciative of the donation from IU Health, and also of the support of the many IU Health employees who voted for us with their steps in the contest.
• March 2, 2019
Growing Coalition Backs a Bipartisan Bill to Increase Investment in Indiana’s Parks and Wild Places
(INDIANAPOLIS, IN)- A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly that would dedicate existing state revenue to address serious underfunding of Indiana’s state parks and wild areas. House Bill 1376 would use sales tax revenue already collected from the sale of outdoor equipment and sporting goods to forever protect endangered woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, and better maintain state parks and other state outdoor properties.
The bill’s lead authors are Rep. Mike Aylesworth (R-Hebron) and Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie).
Backed by sixteen diverse organizations and growing, HB 1376, known as “the Indiana Outdoor Stewardship Act (IOSA)” would establish a predictable and consistent source of funding for important state conservation programs. Specifically, the programs proposed to receive IOSA funds are:
- President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust
- State Wildlife Action Plan and Wildlife Diversity Program
- Maintenance and repair of buildings and facilities on DNR properties.
“Indiana’s beautiful natural areas may well be the state’s least-touted economic development asset despite being a $16 billion per year sector,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “Worse, they are woefully underfunded, degrading the experience for the Hoosiers who visit state parks, preserves, and recreation areas.”
All of the above programs and initiatives have been underfunded and unable to fulfill their mission or meet their needs: The President Harrison Conservation Trust has not received a meaningful state appropriation since 2009, and revenue from sale of the environmental license plate has declined nearly 50% over the last two decades due to increased specialty plate competition. The State Wildlife Action Plan and the Wildlife Diversity Program support DNR efforts to protect and restore wildlife habitats and populations; neither program receives state funds dedicated for their specific purpose, apart from the funds that state taxpayers contribute on their tax return for non-game and endangered wildlife. The Indiana DNR owns and manages hundreds of outdoor properties — state parks, state recreation areas, state forests, nature preserves, and state fish and wildlife areas. The buildings, picnic shelters, restrooms, inns, and trails at these sites must be constantly maintained for the enjoyment of the over 17 million visitors who use them every year.
“State funding has not kept pace with the need to adequately maintain the structures and other facilities at our state parks and recreation areas, resulting in a backlog of deferred maintenance projects we estimate at nearly $100 million,” said Tom Hohman of the Indiana Parks Alliance.
“With the conclusion of the highly successful Bicentennial Nature Trust, and the very limited state investment in the President Benjamin Harrison Conversation Trust, Indiana’s ability to conserve our most valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats is at a critical point. Now is the time for our legislators to renew the state’s commitment to protection of our state’s outdoor legacy,” said John Ketzenberger, director of government relations for the Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
“Finding a place to hunt, fish, or trap is the number one problem facing sportsmen in Indiana today. Many of us rely on public land for our outdoor opportunities, and this legislation will help to ensure that we continue to grow our public land quality and availability. It is on this public land that we can share the outdoor lifestyle with other outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, canoe and kayak enthusiasts, nature photographers, and birdwatchers for generations to come,” said Gene Hopkins, president of Indiana Sportsman’s Roundtable.
Organizations endorsing the Indiana Outdoor Stewardship Act to date:
Eagle Creek Watershed
Hoosier Chapter Soil and Water Conservation Society
Hoosier Environmental Council
Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts
The Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy
\\Indiana Parks Alliance
Indiana Sportsman’s Roundtable
Indiana Wildlife Federation
Indiana Forest Alliance
Izaak Walton League Indiana Division
League of Women Voters of Indiana
Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District
NICHES Land Trust
Save Maumee Grassroots Organization
Shirley Heinze Land Trust
Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter
South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society
The Indiana Conservation Alliance (INCA) is a group of organizations sharing a common interest in the protection, stewardship and sustainable use of our natural resources. We are a unified voice advocating for public funding for land, water and wildlife conservation. INCA, as a coalition, backs IOSA. More information can be found at www.indianaconservationalliance.org, facebook.com/INCAsc2014, and twitter.com/INconservation.
• December 17, 2018
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
By John Goss
Indiana to get $20M from the Recovering Americas Wildlife Act!
Scientists estimate that one third of all U.S. wildlife species are in trouble or vulnerable due to habitat loss, invasive species, and severe weather taking a toll on birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and bees.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a bold vision, with no tax increase, that will re-direct $1.3 billion of existing revenues from energy development on federal lands to allow Indiana and all states to more fully implement state wildlife action plans. Indiana has a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) that is a blueprint for conservation of non-game species by assessing the health of wildlife and habitat and identifying the species of greatest conservation need. Indiana has a proven track record of success for restoring Hoosier species such as the bald eagle, osprey, otters, falcons and others in the non-game categories in addition to white tail deer and turkeys and numerous fish species for hunting and angling.
Indiana would be required to provide a $6 Million match to fully access the $20 million estimated as Indiana’s share of the new dedicated funding source that would continue indefinitely as part of the Pitman-Robertson Act that has funded state fish and wildlife programs since 1937. There are currently more than 100 co-sponsors of H.R. 4647 in the House including Rep. Andre Carson. Please contact your members of the U.S. House and Senate and urge them to join as co-sponsors for the future of Indiana’s Wildlife.
• November 3
Friends of Brown County State Park receive a grant award from Indiana Parks Alliance President Tom Hohman. The money will go toward creating copper sculptures of leaves in the park’s Nature Center. Pictured are, left to right, BCSP Interpretive Naturalist Patrick Haulter, Tom Hohman, Friends President Vicky Wyatt, Friends Vice President Dwight Thompson and Friends Treasurer Janet Kramer. (Photo by Sara Clifford, Brown County Democrat)
• November 2
IPA was pleased to be at the INPAWS conference in Bloomington Oct. 28. Jerry Pagac and Tom Hohman took turns staffing the IPA table and roaming about, swapping info and seeds. It’s great to share our love of native Indiana flora, including our beloved ash trees. (Photo by Michael Huft)
• October 4
At their August board meeting the Indiana Parks Alliance awarded Project grants to three applicants.
1) The Friends of Limberlost/Loblolly Marsh will receive a check to assist in restoring the Limberlost wetlands and prairies with native plantings.
2) The Friends of Harmonie State Park are a grant recipient for funds to go toward their project to build an outdoor education pavilion adjacent to the existing nature center.
3) The Friends of Brown County State Park plan to create 8 to 10 copper leaf sculptures for display in the nature center. The sculptures will be shaped with enough volume, curves and shapes that when touched you can actually feel the veins of the leaves. A local artist will be commissioned for the project.
Pictured L to R are Tom Hohman, IPA, Terri Gorney, Friends of the Limberlost, and Ben Hess, DNR, Div. of Nature Preserves.
(Photo credit: Jim Langham, The Berne Witness.)