Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

May 16, 2014

JANE HARDISTY: Celebrate Indiana's wetlands

May is American Wetlands Month

Here at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Indiana, we are celebrating. Not because it is race time or that it’s finally warm enough to plant a garden, but because it is time to recognize a vital resource. May 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of American Wetlands Month. This month celebrates the importance of wetlands to the nation’s ecological, economic and social health.

Wetlands improve water quality, increase water storage and supply, reduce flood and storm surge risk, and provide critical habitat for plants, fish and wildlife.

Since 1985, Indiana farmers have worked with NRCS to restore, enhance and protect nearly 70,000 acres of wetlands and floodplains, including one of the largest wetlands in the country, Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County.

We are also very fortunate to be a part of one of the largest land conservation projects in the country, working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and others to protect wetlands along the Wabash River, Sugar Creek and Muscatatuck River. The project, called the Healthy Rivers Initiative, has permanently protected 31,359 acres in a few short years for our future generations. Thousands of acres are now available to the public for bird watching, photography, fishing, hunting and other types of recreation.

We have a new Farm Bill this year, and I encourage farmers and other landowners who are interested in restoring and protecting a wetland on their property to contact us to talk about the Wetlands Reserve Easement component of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. This program protects the long-term viability of our wetlands and their associated benefits. NRCS can also help with other types of conservation planning on your property.

We all have much to celebrate in Indiana. Let’s start by thanking all the farmers and other landowners who are voluntarily improving our water quality and reducing flooding by restoring or enhancing a wetland. Second, let’s get outdoors and learn more about wetlands and their benefits. You can join a local watershed group, participate in wetland monitoring or a clean-up project. Or better yet, invite your friends and family to explore a wetland near you or take a trip down to Goose Pond — you’ll be amazed at all we have to celebrate!

For more information about NRCS or the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, visit our website www.in.nrcs.usda.gov.

Jane Hardisty is state conservationist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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