A recent state-wide poll indicates that Hoosiers support protecting the state’s wetlands across party lines and do not want those protections weakened.
According to the poll commissioned by Audubon Great Lakes, 94% of Indiana voters believe that state leaders should either strengthen (49%) or maintain (45%) Indiana’s current wetland protections.
“What we found was that Hoosiers are truly united, regardless of their political party, when it comes to wetland protections,” Brian Vigue, freshwater policy director for Audubon Great Lakes, told the Indiana Environmental Reporter.
The poll sought to determine how important protections for the state’s remaining 800,00 acres of wetlands are to Hoosier voters.
“We knew that Senate Enrolled Act 389, which rolled back protections for more than 400,000 acres of wetlands in Indiana, was unpopular across the state, but we didn’t know how voters felt across the political spectrum,” Vigue said.
The bill was signed into law in 2021, removing all state protections for 425,000 acres of Class I wetlands, which make up more than half of the state’s remaining wetlands. The law also weakened protections for Class II wetlands, which account for 250,000 acres.
The law also established a 14-member Indiana Wetlands Task Force to research and develop strategies for the remaining wetlands.
While wetlands make up only about 4% of the state, they provide a habitat for 50% of animal species with small or declining populations.
Besides wildlife, wetlands also serve important water management functions. Wetlands trap and slowly release water, filtering it through sediment and vegetation before it reaches surface and groundwater systems.
“It’s important that policymakers and members of the Indiana Wetlands Task Force pay attention to the results of this poll and heed the concerns of residents to protect the future of Indiana’s wildlife and outdoor recreation economy. Recent rollbacks of the state’s wetland protections are out of step with the concerns of everyday Hoosiers,” Vigue said.
Other poll findings include:
• Ninety-two percent of Hoosiers say “issues involving protecting fish and wildlife habitat, lakes, rivers, stream and wetlands” are an important priority to them personally. This is shared by 86% of Republicans and 97% of Democrats.
• By a nearly 4 to 1 margin, Hoosiers prioritize protecting water sources and habitats (52%) over protecting landowner and developer rights (14%).
• Nearly three-quarters of Hoosiers would have a “less favorable” impression of a state legislator who voted to relax wetland protections, including strong majorities of Republicans (64%), Independents (63%) and Democrats (86%).
• Three quarters of Hoosiers support the state’s wetland task force basing new wetland rules and standards on science.
“It’s not too late to restore Indiana’s important habitats for the benefit of wildlife and local communities,” Vigue said. “Early results from our wetland restoration in the Calumet region of northwest Indiana show that the 40-year trend of marsh bird population declines are stabilizing, and several species populations are increasing in breeding abundance.”
The Indiana Wetlands Task Force will release a report on its findings in November.