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DNR History

First fish and wildlife laws in Indiana

  • 1849: Greene County made it illegal to poison fish.
  • 1857: Introduction of closed season on deer, wild turkey, quail, pheasant and prairie chicken.
  • 1867: Statewide ban on seining, netting, trapping or shooting fish.
  • 1871: Law passed banning putting poisonous materials in water in order to kill or injure fish.
  • 1873: Law protecting songbirds was passed.
  • 1877: Seasons set for duck and woodcock.
  • 1881: Legislature created the Office of Commissioner of Fisheries.
  • 1889: County Road Supervisors given authority to enforce fish and game laws (first Conservation Officers).
  • 1897: Legislature gave commissioner the power to appoint at least one deputy in every county. Deputies had no salary, but received $10 from each conviction.
  • 1901: First time hunting license was required. Deputies given $60 a month salary.
  • 1903: Commissioner recommended that license fees be used to pay deputies to do away w/ the "commission upon conviction" system. He stated that deputies would often "entice persons to violate the law to get fees."
  • 1911: Act was passed establishing game wardens. Salary was $75 a month. Within a decade, Indiana wardens were averaging 55 arrests apiece, which set a national record.

Creation of Department of Conservation

Conservation-related departments that eventually would become the Department of Conservation (precursor to today's DNR):

  • 1837: State Geologist created.
  • 1869: The Geological Survey created, according to its first annual report.
  • 1889: Department of Fisheries and Game was created.
  • 1901: the legislature created the Board of Forestry and the position of State Forester.

1830-1860: Forestry fact: the southern part of Indiana maintained more forested areas during this time of clearing the land than did northern Indiana. The reason had to do with the glaciers that traveled slowly across the northern part of the state, flattening the earth and leaving deposits of rich, loamy soil conducive to farming. The unglaciated south, with its less favorable soil, remained largely forested.

1870: The forerunner to today's Indiana State Museum was a single case in the board room of the state geologist. In 1870, a $100 appropriation was set aside for this case, which would hold specimens of Indiana birds and mammals. This "museum" was later expanded to an entire room built onto the east side of the old statehouse. To the room were added the state geologist's collection of minerals, fossils, shells and other objects of natural history. When the current statehouse was built, the museum was moved to a location on the first floor.

1860-1900: Frenetic deforestation in the name of agriculture. Indiana's original 23 million acres of forestland dwindled to less than two million acres by 1900. Results:

  • soil erosion and the ensuing river and stream pollution;
  • loss of natural communities to wildfires;
  • draining of natural wetlands.

This unfettered pillaging of the state's natural resources was beginning to raise alarm in some by the late 1870s.

1900: Indiana was the leading hardwood producer in the nation.

1903: Clark State Forest established as a nursery and forest research facility.

1905: State Entomologist established in through Purdue University. It becomes a state office in 1907 in order to control San Jose scale, which threatened Indiana orchards.

1908: Indiana's first Arbor Days were April 26 and Oct. 25.

Charles C. Deam was appointed Secretary of the State Board of Forestry. In his first three years, he created a forestry-related curriculum for schoolchildren.

1913: The state forestry board made its first appearance at the Indiana State Fair.

March 13, 1916: Richard Lieber began work to procure three areas of Indiana (in Brown County, at Turkey Run and at Indiana Dunes) to become state parks in celebration of the 100 anniversary of Indiana's statehood. Lieber's committee attempted to purchase what is now Turkey Run State Park at an auction conducted by the family, but was out-bid by the Hoosier Veneer (lumber) Company.

May 12, 1916: The Owen County newspaper editor suggested McCormick's Creek to his legislator as a possible state park.

Late May 1916: On behalf of the state park committee, Lieber purchased McCormick's Creek State Park (as a celebration of the state's centennial) with his bid of $5,250.

Nov. 11, 1916: Lieber's committee settled with Hoosier Veneer Company for the purchase of Turkey Run State park at $40,200.

Dec. 16, 1916: McCormick's Creek and Turkey Run state parks were dedicated.

March 1919: Governor Goodrich signed into law a bill creating the Department of Conservation. Col. Richard Lieber, whose efforts over many years culminated in this legislation, was named the first director of the department. It included five divisions:

  • Geology
  • Entomology
  • Forestry
  • Lands and Waters
  • Fish and Game

Dec. 1919: Lieber appointed Charles Parrish the department's first "Chief of Information."

1919: Game wardens' monthly pay was increased to $100.

Oct. 27, 1920: Clifty Falls State Park was presented as a gift to the state by several residents of Madison. This small group had spent a year raising money to buy the 570 acres at Lieber's suggestion.

1921: The Indiana Classified Forest Act set in motion a voluntary program to conserve and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of private forestland.

May 17, 1921: Jennings County turned over a portion of Muscatatuck Valley named Vinegar Mills to the state for use as a state park. Vinegar Mills was later re-named "Muscatatuck" because of the historic significance of that Indian name, meaning "winding waters." A brick house was converted into a small inn, and tents with wooden floors built for additional accommodations. Just 86 acres, this finely forested park became a popular picnic area and stopover between Madison and Indianapolis, but never was developed further. Several years down the road, Muscatatuck was reclassified as a state game farm, then became a county park. Muscatatuck State Park was the first state park that required no financial assistance of any kind.

1923: The Division of Engineering was added to the Department of Conservation. One of the division's first jobs was to construct a wooden trestle over Newby Gulch at Turkey Run State Park. Other tasks were to build roads, bridges, buildings and other structures on Department of Conservation property.

1924: Brown County State Game Preserve was opened to the public under the jurisdiction of the Division of Fish and Game. A ranger is assigned.

April 1926: Indiana suffered its first loss of game wardens in the line of duty. Wardens William Nattkemper and William Peare, although strong swimmers, drowned in the Wabash River north of Terre Haute while battling choppy waters.

1927: The Division of Forestry was given the power to detect and suppress fires on private land.

1929: The state-run tree nurseries were producing more than a million seedlings each year.

1929: Brown County commissioners turned over to the Department of Conservation just over 1,000 acres adjacent to Brown County State Game Preserve for Brown County State Park. Development was slow, however, because the highway to the park was not yet finished. On May 22, 1932, Abe Martin Lodge and several cabins were dedicated at Brown County State Park. Later, the game preserve lands were sold to the Dept. of Conservation and added to the state park.

March 9, 1925: Four historic properties were placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation:

  • the James F.D. Lanier Home in Madison
  • the Nancy Hanks Lincoln burial site in Lincoln City
  • the State Capital building in Corydon
  • the Tippecanoe Battlefield near Lafayette

1925: The first tract of land was bought for the area that would become Indiana Dunes State Park. The park opened to the public the following year.

July 17, 1926: The property that would eventually become Pokagon State Park was dedicated as a state park. Steuben County purchased the land. The finest of the state park inns (at that time) was built there.

1927: Spring Mill property was transferred to the Department of Conservation. Soon after, the 295-acre tract of land, including the grist mill and other buildings that were part of the thriving community of the early 1800s, was purchased from a cement company for one dollar.

1927: A naturalist program was established for Indiana State Parks and implemented at Dunes, Turkey Run, Clifty Falls and McCormick's Creek.

1927-1933: Indiana State Parks began to concentrate to a much larger degree on camping.

1928: Clay, Greene and Sullivan counties donated to the state the land that would become Shakamak State Park. The name, which means "waters of the long fish," comes from the Delaware Indians' moniker for the Eel River.

1930: Mounds State Park was acquired.

1933: Civilian Conservation Corps established.

1933: Paul McNutt became governor and placed the Department of Conservation under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works. Richard Lieber was named head of the Department of Conservation Division of State Parks and Lands and Waters.

July 15, 1933: Richard Lieber resigns from his post.

Early 1930s: The land that became Ouabache State Park was acquired and established as the Wells County State Forest and Game Preserve. It was designated Ouabache State Recreation Area in 1962, and in 1983 was renamed Ouabache State Park.

1934: Educational Bureau established within DNR. (Precursor to current DNR Division of Public Information and Education.)

February 1934: First issue of Outdoor Indiana magazine sent free of charge in to members of conservation clubs and other outdoor enthusiasts.

1935: Fire Wardens were appointed, and the first Fire School was held.

1935: Legislature granted to the Commissioner of the Department of Conservation the power to set seasons and bag limits.

1936: USDA Forest Service established Vallonia Nursery.

1939: An act was passed changing the name "game warden" to "conservation officer." Two years later, the legislature gave conservation officers full police powers.

1942: Forest Fire Fighters' Service organized in Indiana.

1942: By this time, Indiana State Parks were fully self-supporting through gate fees.

1943: Land along the Tippecanoe River was transferred by the National Park Service to the Department of Conservation for use as a state park. Part of that land became the Winamac Fish and Wildlife Area, and part of it became Tippecanoe River State Park.

1943: The National Park Service deeded to the state the land that is now Versailles State Park.

Nov. 4, 1944: Indiana Flood Control Commission appointed by Governor Schricker (Anton "Tony" Hulman, Jr. was elected Chairman).

March 7, 1945: Flood Control Act signed into law by Governor Gates. Addressed development in flood hazard areas; created Water Resources Commission.

1947: The land that would become The Shades State Park was purchased and held by a holding company until a public subscription campaign ("Save The Shades") could raise enough money to buy it.

1949: Whitewater Memorial State Park was established as a living memorial to those who served in World War II.

1950: Cooperative Forest Management Act made federal funds available for forestry practices on private lands.

1964: The Flood Control and Water Resources Commission was organized into two major branches: Engineering (included Hydraulic Data, Project Planning, Engineering Geology, Surveying and Mapping, Drafting and Accounting sections) and Operations (included Permits and Regulations, Local Project Development, Construction and Special Investigations sections).

Creation of the DNR

1965: Natural Resources Act passed by General Assembly and signed by Governor Branigan, creating the Department of Natural Resources. The following agencies were included under the DNR umbrella:

  • Department of Conservation (including a Water Resources Division)
  • Flood Control and Water Resources Commission
  • State Soil and Water Conservation Committee
  • Outdoor Recreation Council

At the creation of the DNR, the Department of Conservation's Water Resources Division merged with the Flood Control and Water Resources Commission. All water-related issues fell under the new division's jurisdiction except water quality, which was still under the State Board of Health Stream Pollution Control Board. It eventually passed to IDEM.

Laws enacted since 1965 regarding flooding:

  • Flood Plain Management Statute (1973) delineates and regulates flood hazard areas
  • Provision added to Flood Control Statute in 1973 requiring DNR to evaluate certain environmental impacts of floodway projects. If applying for permit to construct in floodway, applicant must prove that project won't "result in unreasonably detrimental effects upon fish, wildlife, or botanical resources."
  • Water Resource Management Statute (1983) addresses ground water conflicts resulting from significant water well withdrawals. The DNR Division of Water conducts water resource assessments and keeps a database of significant ground water and surface water users.
  • Emergency Regulation of Ground Water Rights Statute (1985) protects small capacity water well owners who lose water supply due to nearby high-capacity water withdrawals - either surface or ground water.

1967: Indiana State Museum moved from its first floor quarters in the Statehouse to the Alabama Street location.

1967: Indiana General Assembly passed the Nature Preserves Act, establishing the Division of Nature Preserves under the DNR. The division was charged with the acquisition, dedication, management and protection of significant natural areas throughout the state.

1968: Governor Branigin disarmed Conservation Officers.

1969: Governor Whitcomb re-armed Conservation Officers.

1969: Potato Creek was designated as a state park.

1970s: Indiana's state-run tree nurseries were growing more than 45 different species of tree seedlings.

1972: The Timber Buyers Licensing Law was passed to protect the rights of landowners and timber buyers, and to discourage timber theft on private and public lands.

1976: First Indiana fire crews were dispatched out of state to work on western fires.

Hunter safety program implemented in Indiana.

1985: Project Learning Tree and the Outdoor Lab programs established to help teachers bring forestry-related lessons into the classroom.

1988: Summit Lake State Park was established.

1990: Legislation passed allowing the DNR Division of Forestry to provide a free tree seedling to every third grade student in Indiana. Also, the Community and Urban Forestry program was established to keep citizens involved in maintaining their local forests.

1990: Falls of the Ohio State Park was established.

1995: The first land for Charlestown State Park was acquired from the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant.

The first land for Prophetstown State Park, located near Battle Ground, was acquired by the DNR. Development of the park continues.

1996: Fort Harrison State Park was dedicated in October.

2001: Natural Resources Education Center opened at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park.

May 2002: Indiana State Museum built a new building and opened at its current White River State Park location.

Present: Indiana's forested acres now total 4.5 million, up from 1900's two million, but still significantly down from the area's original 23 million acres of forestland.