Young Climate Activist Fights to Save Indiana Wetlands

'Nature can’t talk so I am trying to be the voice for nature.'

Leo Berry in wetlands in Indiana
Leo Berry in Indiana wetlands.

Leo and Lindsey Berry

Early this year, youth activist Leo Berry was at the Indiana State House with his mom and a couple of friends to support a climate resolution study and research bill that was being introduced. While there, the 11-year-old also heard about a bill that would repeal Indiana’s wetlands protections.

SB 389 would revoke the law requiring a permit from the department of environmental management for wetland activity in a state-regulated wetland. According to the Nature Conservancy, Indiana has already lost 85% of its original wetlands. If the bill passes, up to 90% of the remaining wetlands could be at risk.

“I was shocked as we listened to Victoria Spartz [then state senator, now state representative] explain that it was a hassle and cost taxpayers dollars to continue to have protection on our wetlands,” Leo tells Treehugger. 

“She introduced this bill and I listened knowing this was not good, and after hearing about it that day and hearing the committee vote to pass it to the Senate for a vote, but NOT the climate resolution, I knew I had to do something. We need wetlands and healthy ecosystems to thrive.”

Leo and his mom Lindsey, already founded the non-profit Helping Ninjas, a movement to encourage kids to help change the world. Now Leo wanted to learn more about how to help the wetlands. He started a petition to raise awareness of the bill and the wetlands.

The bill passed the Indiana Senate by a 29-19 vote in early February and is now before the Indiana House.

Leo and his mom talked to Treehugger via email about his involvement with the wetlands and his passion for the planet. This is a slightly edited excerpt from that conversation.

Treehugger: What made you first get interested in Indiana's wetlands? Why did the issue become important to you?

Leo: I began researching and learning more about wetlands. I knew I had to do something, so I started the petition. I thought maybe, just maybe, those 17 authors on this bill do not know about wetlands and are uneducated about it as I was before I wanted to learn. Today, the percent of surface area in Indiana wetlands is 3.5% which is an 85% loss of all wetlands once here.

In February of 2020, I updated the petition, and in 48 hours, it had over 6,000 signatures. Now it has 24,000.

I did this so I could raise awareness and help educate the public and to provide a way for others to help support this effort and to help keep our wetlands protected. Adults and youth should learn about these issues and speak about these issues, because it is our future and everyone’s voice matters and more importantly nature matters. I believe that everyone should always choose planet over profit.

When people ask, how do you explain to them why wetlands are so critical?

I think it is important to protect the environment because it helps us live as humans. It is our home. Soil, water and air quality, and clean ecosystems are vital to our survival and our future.

Wetlands are important in any state or country, but to Indiana, they are vital to our survival. They help prevent floods and droughts, which in turn positively helps our state’s agriculture and helps with storm water mitigation.

Wetlands are both productive and valuable resources. They help remove toxins and clean our water, which we need. And they sequester carbon. Also, wetlands are homes to thousands of species, including one-third of Indiana’s endangered species, which is important to biodiversity and necessary for healthy ecosystems.

Why are you hoping to stall SB 389? 

Nature can’t talk so I am trying to be the voice for nature.

We have a right to a secure future, one that we can live in. The world that has been given to us, all of these wonderful things — if we continue to take everything from this world, there will be nothing left, and neither will we.

We must rebut SB 389, or to make necessary amendments to continue protecting Indiana's wetlands, because we need wetlands. We need nature.

Countries, states and cities across the globe are tailoring, developing and implementing strategies and solutions in alignment with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. SDG Goal 15 is to: "Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss."

I think this is important and is necessary for everyone to join these efforts to build a resilient and healthy future together, and hope that Indiana and our elected officials follow suit. 

winter wetlands Indiana
winter wetlands Indiana. Leo Berry

What sort of response have you received so far?

So far we have a good response, over 24,000 signatures and over 3,500 shares.

Everyone signing and commenting on social media is saying how thankful they are that I did this and thanking me and telling me they are proud of me and most importantly agreeing that wetlands are important and need to be protected.

Someone even called me a hero. It made me feel really good about myself. And, it made me realize I am really doing something and making a difference. And maybe enough to protect our wetlands.

My petition is proof that you can do anything, if you just try.

Why did you decide to create Helping Ninjas? What is the goal of your group?

I started Helping Ninjas because I think it is important that every child has an opportunity to learn how to help the world. Being a helping ninja means you are highly skilled at helping.

I started it when I was 8 years old because I learned that bees were endangered. It inspired me to learn more about endangered species and ocean pollution and more. I wanted to teach other kids how to help the world too and show them how they can help.

Helping Ninjas is not just an organization it is a movement to inspire change and future leaders.

I think kids like me innately have a desire to help the world, Helping Ninjas wants to help them learn how to help and our goal is to get kids and adults excited about helping and becoming experts at helping the planet and to create awareness about the importance of helping the world, and more importantly helping others learn to help and giving them a chance to do so.

Helping Ninjas is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate and also provide opportunities for kids to learn to be highly skilled at helping the world. We have Helping Ninjas in 16 different states across the United States. 

Leo Berry
Leo Berry

How has this passion inspired you when thinking about what else you might like to do, whether it's other projects or even your future career?

Helping Ninjas has taught me that kids can make a difference too. It has taught me that anyone can make a difference, as long as you want too. And it has inspired me to want to teach other youth to help the world, and in some instances, adults too. Like the wetlands.

It has shown me that helping is really fun, helping others or helping the planet actually helps you (us) too and it feels good. By starting, Helping Ninjas I have learned that every action has a consequence, good or bad.

Even as a kid, every choice we make will affect the planet and wildlife and other people and I learned that I (and we) must be cautious of this and make choices and live lifestyles and form habits that do NOT to harm our environment.

I learned that if you don’t do something, who will?

It made me realize that I want to go into government and into policy as a career.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I live in Carmel, Indiana. I have three siblings Layla, 9 and Sawyer 8, and Skyler 7, and they are all Helping Ninjas too. I have two pets, a yellow Labrador retriever named Rocky, and a bearded dragon named Rex. My favorite hobbies are hiking, biking, mountain biking, reading and gaming with friends. I like to take our dog Rocky on walks, especially nature hikes in the woods. I have read about 4,000 books. I have 1,200 in my room, the rest is total over the years since I have been reading since I was 6 years old.

I like volunteering in the community and especially at Second Helpings in Indianapolis. I also like gardening with my mom, I like learning about global and current issues and reading the news, and I like doing things for my community and leading the Helping Ninjas and Helping Ninjas clubs. I also like to play baseball and doing yoga with my family. I like to play cards and Trivia Pursuit with my family too. I also like traveling to new places. And I like to hang out with my grandpa.

View Article Sources
  1. Garten, Sen. Chris, et al. "Senate Bill 389." Indiana General Assembly.

  2. "Wetlands at Risk." The Nature Conservancy, 2021.

  3. "Indiana Senate Bill 389." LegiScan, 2021.

  4. "The 17 Goals." United Nations.