Houchin Introduces Wilderness Expansion Bill in US House

INDIANAPOLIS —  On Friday, the Indiana Forest Alliance announced that Rep. Erin Houchin (R-Ind.) introduced H.R. 8535, legislation which will more than double the current size of the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area and establish the new Benjamin Harrison National Recreation Area adjacent to the expanded wilderness in the Hoosier National Forest.

H.R. 8535 is the House companion to S. 2990, the Benjamin Harrison National Recreation Area and Wilderness Establishment Act of 2023, by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) which itself was reintroduced into the Senate this week as S.4402 with language identical to that of H.R. 8535.

Indiana Forest Alliance Executive Director Jeff Stant said Rep. Houchin’s introduction of this landmark legislation makes it much more likely to become law, leaving Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind) as the only federal legislator who represents the area who has yet to come out in support of the bill.

“Myself and everyone at Indiana Forest Alliance are very thankful to Congresswoman Houchin for her introduction of this bill,” said Stant. “IFA staff has been trying to protect this area for the last five years from ill-conceived Forest Service plans to log and burn much of it and working around the clock since the Senate version of this legislation was first introduced by Sen. Braun last fall. With Rep. Houchin’s action, we are one significant step closer to getting this bill across the finish line. We call on Sen. Todd Young to swifty sign on as a co-sponsor of this bill so we can permanently protect the largest wild forest in the lower midwestern United States from logging, burning and other destructive activities.”

Once passed, this legislation will designate an additional 15,300 acres of wilderness to the north, east, and southeast of the current Deam Wilderness, more than doubling its current size from 12,953 acres to 28,253 acres. Some  29,382 acres of additional national forest land surrounding the expanded Wilderness will be designated as the Benjamin Harrison National Recreation Area by the legislation to protect Lake Monroe and promote hiking, horseback riding, camping and mountain biking on these public lands under a Management Plan for the area. 

No private land will be included in the wilderness or National Recreation Area, as all acres included in the legislation are part of Hoosier National Forest. 

Jeff Stant said the effort to preserve these lands has spanned over half a century. 

“Over 50 years ago, then-Hoosier National Forest Supervisor, A. Claude Ferguson proposed that much of these lands be preserved as wilderness. Senator Birch Bayh sponsored legislation to establish a wilderness study area on these lands, but it failed due to public outcry over private lands included in that original proposal,” said Stant. “So many Hoosiers in the environmental advocacy community like myself have spent most of our lives working to preserve these exact lands. To see us this close to success is moving beyond words. I only wish all of those who have led efforts to protect the area were here to see it.”

For more information on the contents of the bill, including a map of the proposed area, click here.

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