On September 28, 2023, US Senator Mike Braun introduced S. 2990, the Benjamin Harrison National Recreation Area and Wilderness Establishment Act of 2023. Counting the adjacent 16,000-acre Brown County State Park, this legislation will establish the largest area of protected public forest in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois at the doorstep of Indianapolis, Columbus, Seymour, Bloomington and Bedford. The legislation will more than double the Charles Deam Wilderness Area, increasing it by 15,300 acres to the north and east.
Most of this area was first proposed to be wilderness fifty years ago by then Hoosier National Forest Supervisor, A. Claude Ferguson. Legislation sponsored by Senator Birch Bayh to establish a wilderness study area on these lands included private property prompting a sustained outcry that stopped two bills that had passed the Senate from moving through the House.
Senator Braun’s legislation includes no private land and will not close roads to private property.
The legislation will also:
- Establish a National Recreation Area (NRA) on an additional 29,382 acres of national forest land explicitly to protect the Monroe Reservoir water supply and promote dispersed recreation on land surrounding the expanded 28,253-acre Deam Wilderness.
- Absorb the lands in the Houston South Project with 3,000 acres north of the Maumee Boy Scout Reservation included in the wilderness expansion and the remaining 10,500 acres in the NRA, forcing this destructive project to be reduced or eliminated altogether.
- Address concerns of mountain biking groups and government agencies. In addition to developing mountain biking trails in the NRA, 200 foot wide setbacks will be maintained on six trails that traverse the Wilderness expansion to permit mountain biking to continue on those trails. A 100 foot wide setback will be maintained along utility easements and county and state roads bordering the expanded Wilderness.
- Enhance the quality of life for Americans by protecting the pristine natural condition of an area of unprecedented size in Indiana for all types of wilderness recreation.
- Allow opportunities unsurpassed in the lower Midwest for hiking, backpacking, wilderness camping, horseback riding and mountain biking.
- Recognize that mature forests provide clean water and that the water in Monroe Reservoir is integral to the economic vitality of Bloomington and surrounding communities.
- Establish a Federal Advisory Committee composed of representatives of local governments, area private landowners, conservation and recreation groups, state and federal agencies, experts in dispersed recreation, ecologists and a district forester to work with the Forest Service and the public to develop a management plan for the NRA.
- Enhance the long-term capacity of Monroe Reservoir and its surrounding watershed to absorb precipitation and mitigate against floods predicted to increase in Indiana according to all climate models.
- Implement the vision of President Biden’s Executive Orders 14008 and 14072 as well as Project 46 by local governments along State Road 46 from Columbus to Bloomington, to address climate change by allowing old growth hardwood forest to return to a 90 square mile area, storing an immense amount of carbon and avoiding management practices that will release that carbon.
- Provide imperative habitat for rare and endangered species of wildlife. Protecting this large area of wild interior forest will help ensure the continued survival in Indiana of the state endangered cerulean warbler and timber rattlesnake, nationally endangered Indiana and Northern long eared bats, tricolored bat proposed for endangered listing and many other species of wildlife with healthy reproducing populations that exist in few other locations in the Hoosier state.
How To Help:
Readers are encouraged to urge Indiana’s other US Senator, Todd Young, to co-sponsor S. 2990 and ask US Representative Erin Houchin, whose 9th District includes the BHNRAW, to introduce the bill in the House.
Contact Braun’s Legislative Aide, Will Haines at: Will_Haines@braun.senate.gov
Young’s Legislative Assistant for Public Lands, Burke Miller at: Burke_Miller@young.senate.gov
and Houchin’s Legislative Director, Jonathan Van Buren at JVB@mail.house.gov
S. 2990 will need the expeditious, whole-hearted support of many to become law before the 118th Session of Congress adjourns next year.