At Kankakee Sands, we are working hard to restore the lands back to their native ecosystems. In doing so, we are providing numerous species the habitat they need in order to thrive. Here are just a few examples of the species we are working to protect.
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Information on the Sand's Place Based Learning Program
As part of an Ecoregion-wide attempt to save a battered and diminishing prairie, The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands Efroymson Family Prairie Restoration is rejuvenating a disappearing landscape and providing vital habitat for butterflies, amphibians and grassland birds.
The Kankakee Sands Macrosite sits along the eastern extent of the Central Tallgrass Prairie, encompassing 22,000 acres on either side of the Indiana/Illinois state line. It boasts the largest and finest clustering of remnant black oak barrens in the Midwestern United States (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, 1999) as well as the largest remaining prairie in Indiana, making it one of the richest collections of terrestrial species in the Ecoregion.
The black oak barrens, once joined by miles of prairie and wetlands, now sit isolated from one another as agriculture spread through the region. Species that require wetlands for part of their life cycle, such as frogs and salamanders, are trapped on these barrens “islands”, and are forced to use small ephemeral pockets to reproduce.
In 1996, three key natural areas in northern Newton County—Conrad Savanna, Beaver Lake Prairie and Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area—were established within a matrix of corn and bean fields. The Nature Conservancy purchased the 7,200 acres of intervening land from Prudential Insurance to help ensure that plants and animals isolated on a single site would have a more natural bridge to interact, share genetic material and increase the vigor of the populations.
Four hundred additional acres were purchased to fill a gap between Kankakee Sands and Willow Slough in October 2008. This acquisition, and those in the future, help unify the land and make restoring the prairie across Kankakee Sands' many acres easier than when fragmented.
The Kankakee Sands Prairie Restoration has been at the frontline when it comes to seeing the resurgence of nature. Hundreds of prairie plant species have been established and have continued to thrive over the last 14+ years, while even more species of insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds have been provided the necessary habitat to re-emerge.
One of our most exciting successes has been with the Henslow’s sparrow. Listed as either endangered, threatened, or species of concern in 16 states (and Canada), the Henslow’s sparrow has been known to be in steep decline over the last 50 years. This has been mostly due to loss of habitat, as prairie and grasslands were converted into agricultural lands. However, since restoration began at Kankakee Sands, we’ve seen a huge increase in our Henslow’s sparrow population. A survey conducted in 2008 provided us with a count of over 300 pairs, and subsequent surveys have estimated that we are holding onto that population.
Conrad Station Savanna, located on the northern end of Kankakee Sands, has also seen an increase in species numbers and diversity through restoration and management. The red-headed woodpecker, for example, had decreased in numbers as the fire-suppressed savanna began moving towards a closed canopy woodland/forest. Staff and volunteers have been increasing the amount of light reaching the ground by removing both the understory and the larger canopy trees, such as sassafras, black cherry and black oak. Since The Nature Conservancy has been restoring the savanna structure to Conrad, we’ve seen the red-headed woodpeckers come back.