A billboard on North Wayne Street in Angola expresses support for protecting Indiana’s wetlands. On April 29, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed SEA 389 into law, which experts say will severely curtail wetland protections in the state.

INDIANAPOLIS — More than 100 organizations, including dozens of environmental and conservation groups, signed a letter recently urging Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto SEA 389, a controversial bill rolling back wetlands protections across the state.

However, on April 29, Holcomb signed the bill into law, despite some departments in his administration openly opposing it throughout the legislative session.

Now, some of those groups are voicing their disappointment in his reversal, but also pledging to continue the fight to preserve Indiana’s vulnerable wetlands.

Seven of the major environmental groups who signed the letter — including the Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Indiana Wildlife Federation, Conservation Law Center, Save the Dunes, St. Joseph River Basin Commission and the White River Alliance — issued a joint news release April 30 detailing their response.

“We are grateful to all those who worked against this bill and for better wetland policy,” reads the statement. “The undersigned organizations believe that SEA 389 represents one of the greatest setbacks in the history of Indiana conservation policy because it places hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in jeopardy.

“The potential loss of a massive amount of wetlands acreage could considerably cost the state in increased flooding, lost groundwater recharge, lost water purification, and lost wildlife habitat, driving up property damage, taxpayer-funded infrastructure repairs, and damaging Indiana’s vibrant recreational sector.”

The news release went on to say that the groups plan to work with a task force the law creates to help mitigate what they believe is a disastrous policy.

“SEA 389 also creates a Wetlands Task Force, so we are committed to working with that task force to try to reduce the great harm of this bill,” it reads. “We are also determined to find avenues to protect the vast amount of wetlands that are in jeopardy in the short run.”

The Nature Conservancy in Indiana had a similar reaction.

“We are disappointed in (Holcomb’s) decision to support this bad legislation that eliminates regulation protecting most of the state’s remaining isolated wetlands,” said Larry Clemens, the organization’s state director. “These wetlands are important, and without these regulations, even more will be destroyed.

“We also want to thank the thousands of Hoosiers and the coalition of more than 100 organizations that banded together to oppose this legislation. Hoosiers care about nature, and we’ll all keep working together to protect it.”

Clemens urged Holcomb to appoint a strong leader to the Indiana Wetlands Task Force and members who are serious about studying and protecting Hoosier wetlands.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management estimates Indiana has already lost 85% of its original wetlands. Of the remaining wetlands, an estimated 80-90% were state-protected wetlands, almost half of which will see their see those protections removed under SEA 389.

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