Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Indiana

Introduction and General Description
Situated within the Corn Belt region of the Midwest, Indiana is heavily dominated by agriculture, with approximately 70 percent of the State’s land area in farms. However, significant natural areas still remain on the landscape, from the “pothole” region of northeast Indiana with its natural lakes and wetlands, to the floodplain forested wetlands along the Muscatatuck, Patoka, and Kankakee Rivers, to the heavily wooded hills of southcentral Indiana. The State is home to three national wildlife refuges, which include large tracts of wetland, grassland, and forest communities, providing habitat for a diverse array of Federal trust resources. In addition, because such a large percentage of the State’s original habitat base has been converted to other land uses, Indiana represents one of the best opportunities in the country for habitat restoration.

Habitats of Special Concern
A primary focus of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Indiana is the restoration of wetlands and associated uplands for migratory birds. In the northeast pothole region, this takes the form of wetland basins (marshes) surrounded by upland native prairie, which provides breeding and migration habitat for waterfowl such as mallard and blue-winged teal, and marsh birds such as rails, bitterns, and herons. In watersheds with large floodplain areas, such as the Kankakee, Patoka, and Muscatatuck Rivers, the focus is more on the restoration of bottomland hardwood wetlands, which provide the primary breeding habitat for wood ducks in Indiana, as well as migration and breeding habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds. In addition, the federally endangered Indiana bat utilizes riparian (streamside) forests for breeding, foraging, and migration habitat. Other unique efforts include restoration work on Fish Creek in northeast Indiana, which is home to the only remaining population of the Federally endangered white cat’s paw pearly mussel.

Prior to European settlement, Indiana was a vast wilderness of lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests, and prairies, which harbored a great diversity of fish and wildlife species. The widespread clearing and drainage that followed settlement has dramatically altered the Indiana landscape, reducing the State’s original 5.6 million wetland acres by more than 85 percent, and native prairie and savanna by more than 99.9 percent. These largescale conversions of native habitat had significant impacts on Indiana’s fish and wildlife resources, particularly wetland and aquatic species and grassland dependent birds. Despite restoration efforts, wetlands continue to be lost at a rate that exceeds replacement, and undisturbed grassland habitat is a rarity on the landscape. In addition to direct loss, wildlife habitat, especially wetlands, can be degraded by contamination from agricultural and urban runoff, isolation from other habitats, and increased predation.

Conservation Strategies
With 97 percent of Indiana’s land base in private ownership, a major portion of any successful habitat restoration effort must focus on fostering cooperation with private landowners. This is accomplished by targeting the following habitat types with a variety of restoration and enhancement techniques.

Wetlands provide habitat for nearly half of all migratory birds that occur in Indiana, and are an important habitat for many resident species as well. They also provide benefits which go beyond the scope of fish and wildlife habitat, including floodwater storage, water quality improvement, and groundwater recharge. The northeast Indiana pothole region is a primary focus for the Partners Program due to the high density of drained wetland basins and the large acreage of land retired under the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. Restoration activities primarily involve restoring drained, depressional wetlands by breaking drainage tile, plugging drainage ditches, and constructing low earthen berms. Where possible, wetland complexes (groups of wetlands) are restored, creating a variety of wetland types in close proximity to provide for the diverse habitat needs of wetland wildlife. Costs for this type of wetland restoration average approximately $500-750 per acre.

Along the floodplains of the larger river systems in Indiana, such as the Kankakee, Muscatatuck, Patoka, and Wabash, forested wetlands are a major focus of restoration activities. These areas provide important breeding and migration habitat for waterfowl, neotropical migrant songbirds, and the Federally endangered Indiana bat. Reforestation techniques involve planting mainly 1-2 yearold nursery seedlings adapted to floodplain conditions, and controlling competing weed competition for at least 3 years. Costs for this practice average approximately $400-500 per acre.

Many species of grassland dependent migratory birds have been declining in recent decades, due in large part to the loss of suitable grassland nesting habitat. Species such as bobolink, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, and upland sandpiper are forced to nest in less secure or isolated patches of habitat, which are subject to high rates of disturbance from mowing and nest predation. The Partners Program has worked with partners to help purchase seed drills, as well as cost-share directly with landowners to restore native prairie habitats. This work is focused in the northern and western portions of Indiana, and is often concentrated adjacent to restored or natural wetlands to provide nesting habitat for upland nesting ducks such as mallard and bluewinged teal. Costs vary widely, depending in large part upon the source of the seed, and can run from $100-500 per acre.

Invasive Species
Invasive species are considered to be one of the major threats to the integrity of native terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, as their aggressive growth habits crowd out native species and form dense single-species stands. The Partners Program has developed partnerships with private conservation organizations to help control invasive species on private lands. Control work is often labor intensive, and targeted species include purple loosestrife, common reed, reed canarygrass, garlic mustard, bush honeysuckle, buckthorn, and tall fescue. Costs for this type of work average $100- 300 per acre.

Outdoor Classrooms
The Partners Program in Indiana has been actively involved in environmental education, working with more than 40 schools and nature centers throughout the State to restore wetlands and native prairie for use in outdoor classroom settings. In addition, the Service’s Bloomington Field Office, in conjunction with the Sierra Club Wetlands Project and the Indianapolis Zoo, developed the Integrated Environmental Curriculum on wetlands for use by teachers and other educators statewide.

The Partners Program has been active in Indiana since 1988 and has worked with more than 2,500 landowners statewide.  Highlights include:

  • 1,153 wetlands restored totaling 6,770 acres.
  • 396 grassland restorations totaling 4,545 acres.
  • 147 bottomland hardwood reforestation projects totaling 1,504 acres.
  • Cooperation with nearly 100 partners, including Federal, State, and local agencies, and private organizations.
  • 70 habitat projects on school or park properties for use as outdoor classrooms.

Future Needs
Northern Indiana

  • As many as 1 million acres of drained wetland exist in the northeast Indiana pothole region alone. Often these basins can be easily restored if interested landowners are provided with adequate incentives.
  • The Grand Kankakee Marsh once contained 15 percent (1 million acres) of Indiana’s wetland acreage, but is now mostly drained.  Numerous opportunities exist to restore wetlands, forests, and prairies.
  • The St. Joseph River (Lake Erie Basin) includes Fish Creek, which harbors the only brown population of the federally endangered white cat’s paw pearly mussel, and the Tippecanoe River represents one of the most diverse assemblages of native freshwater mussels in the Midwest. Many opportunities exist for habitat restoration that would enhance water quality for these important aquatic resources.

Southern Indiana

  • The Muscatatuck and Patoka Rivers support some of the largest tracts of bottomland forest in the Midwest, with excellent potential to enlarge habitat blocks and enhance corridors. Historically, Indiana had about 1.6 million acres of prairie and savannah. About 99 percent of these habitats have been lost and many acres could be restored.
  • A 13-county area identified as the Southwestern Lowlands and Southern Bottomlands Natural Regions in southwest Indiana offers one of the most outstanding opportunities to restore wetland habitat on private lands in Indiana. This area includes the lower Wabash River, western reaches of the White River and most of the Patoka River and Pigeon Creek drainages. Based on the Service’s National Wetlands Inventory, over 1.1 million acres of wetlands could be restored in this area, mostly along river floodplains.
  • A 9-county area in southeastern Indiana has great wetland restoration potential. This area is known as the Muscatatuck Flats and Scottsburg Lowland Secions of the Bluegrass Natural Region. Over 505,000 acres of wetlands could be restored to bottomland hardwood forested wetlands, especially along the Muscatatuck River and the East Fork of the White River.

Contact Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Indiana

Jeff Kiefer
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
620 South Walker
Bloomington, Indiana  47403
Phone: 812 334-4261 ext. 212
Fax: 812 334-4273


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