Challenges Impact Biodiversity
The overriding threat to the biodiversity of the Southern Lake Michigan Rim (SLMR) is the impact of urban and industrial development as well as invasive species. Contamination associated with pre-regulatory industrial practices has also had a well-documented effect on the area. Fragmentation of the landscape through multiple land uses, as well as the introduction of roadways, railways, and utility right-of-ways (ROWs), further compounds these problems. As a result, wildlife, such as migratory birds, the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly and other species are cherished here.
Landscape alterations by humans also disconnects ecological processes and patterns such as:
- Hydrology, causing disruption to how water moves above and below the surface of the earth;
- Succession, resulting in unnatural changes in species structure and ecological communities over time;
- Gene flow, creating lesser gene variation between species – and enhancing the potential for extirpation;
- Pollination, hampering reproduction of the various species; and
- Predator-pray relationships, disrupting the balance of certain species.
Meanwhile, roadways, railway lines and utility ROWs also increase the introduction of invasive species that can potentially turn entire areas into one dominant species. Natural area protection becomes even more challenging when one also considers the multitude of adjacent landowners.
Fire suppression is also an issue in SLMR. Fire is a key process in many of the conserved areas within the SLMR – especially oak savannas – for maintaining the balance between woody and herbaceous species. Through suppression, rich wetlands have converted to shrub swamps and brush thickets, and many of the savannas have become dense and wooded with thick understories of plants like glossy buckthorn. And because the area is densely developed, fire can be easily perceived as a threat to private property and human health.
From Challenges, Opportunities are Born
Despite all these challenges, the Conservancy believes that its mission can be accomplished here in a number of ways.
A rich history of conservation efforts – going back more than 100 years -- has helped create worldwide support for land conservation in the area, in particular in the Indiana Dunes. Most importantly, the uniqueness of the area as an outdoor laboratory for study has led to important assets being saved for future generations, beginning with the establishment of the Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925; continuing with the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966; and further enhanced through land protection efforts by the Conservancy and its partners throughout the SLMR region.
With the help of the Conservancy through fee-simple acquisition, monetary assists on acquisition, consultation, and other influential efforts, additional acres of black oak savanna, prairie, dune and swale, boreal and morainal forests and other habitats continue to be saved.
Legacy pollution, invasive species and other issues also continue to be overcome through the hard work of many individuals and entities in the area, including leaders from the Conservancy. One key initiative is the clean-up and restoration of the Grand Calumet River, which will contribute to delisting it as a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) as designated by the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
As part of that effort, the Conservancy has focused extensively on restoring dune and swale habitat in the Grand Calumet AOC over the past few years in partnership with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Lake County Parks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Save the Dunes and others using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding made available through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The Conservancy also regularly consults with partners on specifications and practices being used to ensure that restoration and management results will endure.
Another example is the partnership the Conservancy has with DuPont Natural Area owner DuPont Corporation, which is managed by the Conservancy through an agreement with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. DuPont Corporation generously funds projects to control invasive species and establish Karner blue butterfly populations as the result of a long-established track record by the Conservancy.
A strong, science-based approach to conservation planning also guides the Conservancy’s work in SLMR. By focusing on key core habitats and conservation targets such as dune and swale habitat, and by orchestrating partnerships, the Conservancy tries to achieve more sustainable results, helping ensure that surviving remnants function ecologically as if they are part of a larger, more intact landscape.