The Nature Conservancy isn't only about buying land. Although purchasing is a big part of what we do, acquiring acres is just the beginning of protecting our natural areas. To really preserve our natural heritage, long-term efforts of stewarding the land is vital for the plant and animal species we aim to sustain. Every day, we are working on the ground to preserve, restore and maintain habitat for plants and animals. For now, tomorrow and for generations to come.
To accomplish this, The Nature Conservancy has stewards that manage the lands we own and who work with a number pf partners to influence the management of their lands as well. They put the “effective” into conservation, performing ongoing activities such as invasive species control, fire reintroduction and habitat restoration.
Controlling Invasive Species
The introduction of invasive species - whether it be animals, plants or pathogens - presents a great threat to Indiana's biodiversity. Invasive species are those that are not native to the particular ecosystems they have, well, invaded. The lack of natural competitors and predators allows these species to spread quickly and harm our native animals, plants and insects. They threaten our well-being and hurt local and global economies. In fact, the estimated damage from invasive species worldwide totals more than $1.4 trillion – five percent of the global economy.
The Nature Conservancy of Indiana takes the threat of invasive species seriously and has been working with government agencies and other partners in controlling the spreading of these non-natives. By focusing on prevention and early detection, we have found effective strategies in combating invasive species and protecting our native plants and animals.
Introducing Fire: The Need for Prescribed Burns
In many of the places we work, fire is a natural, beneficial and much needed ecological process. However, after decades of fire suppression, the composition of the landscape has faltered. Unfortunately the role of fire in our natural communities has been out of balance. While it helps specific fire-dependent ecosystems, it is perceived as a threat to humans and neighboring natural areas that would be harmed by fire.
In Indiana, several of our preserves and neighboring lands have been reintroduced to fire through prescribed burns. Prescribed burns are carefully planned and closely monitored burns that remove accumulated brush and young trees under controlled conditions that reduce the threat of uncontrolled wildfires. Oak savannas and open grasslands such as glades and prairies. Prescribed burns not only promote the growth of natural communities that need fire, but helps support the variety of species found in these areas.
Restoring Our Natural Habitats
Sometimes in order to help the diversity of species and natural communities in an area, it is necessary to restore them back from where they have been removed. This is a large problem we face with many of our nature preserves. Almost every acre in Indiana has been manipulated in some way, and for some of our most beautiful natural areas, with detrimental effects.
Restoration activities can take many forms on our sites and often simultaneously. Ecological process restoration is one of our primary strategies. By assisting in the recovery of a site, we are allowing the area to revert back to its natural course. For example, our watershed project areas at Western Lake Erie Basin, Wabash River and Blue River are working to restore floodplain connectivity by replanting forests. Such a step will improve water quality, create a larger storage capacity during floods and decrease sediment deposition that would otherwise hurt rare fish and mussel species. In Northwest Indiana, most of our efforts are in restoring black oak savannas in the Southern Lake Michigan Rim and grassland prairies at Kankakee Sands.
Deer management is also an issue. Unprecedentedly large deer herds have had great consequences for the health of our forests. Deer can consume large amounts of leaves, twigs, and acorns. In some areas of the country, including Indiana, deer are changing the nature of the forest by eliminating many wildflowers and tree seedlings that normally would be present. Regulated hunting is allowed on some preserves; please be cautious of these areas during hunting season.
Recent and ongoing restoration projects at The Nature Conservancy include the reintroduction of the federally endangered Karner Blue butterfly, restoration of Conrad Station Savanna and the reintroduction of the state-endangered Allegheny woodrat.