Bringing a little wildness back to northwest Indiana
The Nature Conservancy, NIPSCO, US Fish & Wildlife Service partner to restore Prairie Border Nature Preserve
A visit to The Nature Conservancy’s Prairie Border Nature Preserve in Jasper County is like a visit to Indiana’s wild past. A sea of prairie and marshes surround islands of prairie grasses and scattered oaks.
But restoring a bit of wild back to the preserve required a lot of work, and it required a team effort. The Nature Conservancy partnered with NIPSCO, a NiSource company, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) on the project. As the Conservancy acquired key lands at the site, NIPSCO and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated on identifying the resources used to re-wild the site. Together, they restored over 200 acres of some of the rarest habitat types in North America.
It wasn’t quite moving mountains, but it did require a lot of earth moving.
“The restoration at Prairie Border is the culmination of years devoted to restoring key habitats that surround nearby Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area,” said John Shuey, director of conservation science for the Conservancy’s Indiana Chapter. “These restorations literally rebuilt the complex interplay between wetland, prairie and woodland - the ‘prairie border’ that once characterized this region.”
Earlier today, staff from the Conservancy and NIPSCO met at Prairie Border to celebrate the restored acreage, as well as the new trails and interpretive signage. Also in attendance was Rep. Doug Gutwein.
Many folks know Jasper-Pulaski as a stopover site for sandhill cranes during their migration. More than 10,000 sandhill cranes stopped at Jasper-Pulaski during their fall migration in 2017. The restored habitat at Prairie Border provides additional habitat for sandhill cranes and many other species.
”The continued effort to preserve, protect and restore our most precious natural habitats and resources is critical to our future,” said Kelly Carmichael, vice president of environmental for NIPSCO and NiSource. “NIPSCO is pleased to have partnered on an effort that will result in long-term benefits well beyond the apparent ecological and environmental improvements that have been accomplished.”
Three hundred years ago, a trip to this area might have been met with knee-deep water. In pre-settlement times, this area was the southern part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, which was made up of the Kankakee River and surrounding marshes. Together, the wetlands and meandering river covered nearly one million acres. By the mid-19th century, the wetlands were drained. The Kankakee River was dredged and straightened. The area had been tamed.
Much of what is now Prairie Border Nature Preserve had been converted to agriculture. As part of the restoration, heavy equipment was brought in to fill agricultural ditches and to create low depressions for the wetlands. As the water table rose in response, the mosaic of wetlands was recreated.
The Conservancy planted more than 140 species of native plants around the newly-formed wetlands and restored the surrounding uplands to open savanna. These species-rich habitats support diverse communities of pollinators, such as native bees and butterflies. As the restorations mature, they’ll create habitats that support rare grassland species, such as Henslow’s sparrows, leopard frogs, and tiger salamanders.
These lands are being conserved, in part, by funding and technical assistance made available as mitigation for impacts caused by construction and maintenance of the NIPSCO Reynolds Topeka Electric System Improvement Project in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.