Heart of the River hosts Protest Paddle


By Lauren Casey

INDIANAPOLIS – As gardens go brown and leaves

fall to the ground, Hoosiers are headed out to clean up their mounting yard


But the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM)

is urging residents not to burn their piles – even if it's allowed

locally – and to find healthier alternatives when disposing of their yard


"There are so many good, environmentally-friendly alternatives

to burning," said IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly. "It just makes sense for

Hoosiers to put away their matches."

State law bans burning trash in all areas of Indiana.

And burning of any kind is banned in Lake, Porter, Clark and Floyd counties.

But state law allows the open burning of leaves,

branches, twigs, and other yard debris in most parts of the state. In some

areas – particularly in larger cities – local ordinances prohibit


Jennifer Simmons, spokeswoman for the Indiana

Association of Cities and Towns

, said the group does not track how many

communities have burn bans. But she said they are usually linked to more

populated areas.

Those local ordinances sometimes ban the fires

completely. Or, they specify the conditions needed for a proper burn, such as

using clean wood products in an elevated, well-ventilated container with a mesh

cover. A fire extinguisher should be nearby in case the fire gets out of hand,

officials said.

Still, state and environmental officials caution

against it. And IDEM's public information officer, Robert Elstro, said the

department receives about 206 open burning complaints on average each year.

Smoke from open burning is harmful to not only the

environment, but also the people living nearby, IDEM officials said. The smoke

includes carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, fine particles, and ozone-forming


Wet leaves or branches can cause the amount of these

chemicals in a fire to multiply.

Roger Johnson, president of the Indiana Firefighter's

Association said that open burning also causes problems for firefighters.

"On a day with a lot of wind the fire can get away

from them so fast," said Johnson. "They can't control it because it can get

very big very fast."

Yard waste fires are more likely to get out of control

in the spring because there are more dead plants and ground foliage left from

winter months, Johnson said.

But he said that although these types of land fires

can get dangerous quickly, "most people have pretty good judgment" when it

comes to open burning.

There are alternatives. Many communities have leaf

collection programs.

Mulching leaves and twigs with a lawnmower can help

return nutrients to the grass. Composting the debris in a container or on the

ground can great nutrient rich soil. And large branches and small trees chipped

into smaller pieces can be used in flowerbeds to control weeds.

"Alternative debris disposal creates mulch and wood

chips that can be used on your lawn and in your garden," Easterly said.

Alternatives to burning yard waste

Mulching: Mulch leaves and twigs by chopping them up

with a lawnmower. This returns nutrients to the grass.

Composting: Pile grass clippings, leaves, branches and

weeds in a container or on the ground. They will break down naturally into a

nutrient-rich soil amendment. Cities, townships and counties have leaf

collection programs if you don't have the space.

Chipping: Borrow or rent a chipper to chip up large

branches and small trees. The wood chips can be spread around trees and flower

beds to retain soil moisture and control weeds.

— Source: Indiana Department of Environmental


The above is one of an ongoing series of reports

from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School

of Journalism.