$1,000,000 to Restore Oak Savanna Habitat

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Save the Dunes, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are partnering to undertake significant ecological restoration of a total of 1,077 acres of black oak savanna habitat beginning this summer. The National Lakeshore will be restoring 1,045 acres of rare native black oak savanna habitat in its Miller Woods and Tolleston Dunes units, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources will be restoring oak savanna habitat in 32 acres of the Indiana Dunes State Park near Trails 9 and 10.

The significance of the Oak Savanna Restoration Project lies not only in the size of the restoration project but also the rarity of the habitat undergoing restoration. Black oak savanna is a rare and disappearing ecosystem that is nearly lost from our planet. It is estimated that less than 0.02% of high quality oak savanna remains in the Midwest, a region that used to have a great abundance of this ecosystem. We are incredibly fortunate to have several locations within the Indiana dunes that contain this rare oak savanna habitat. According to a report from the Midwest Oak Savanna and Woodland Ecosystems Conferences, approximately 4,000 acres of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is high-quality and degraded oak savanna.

Oak savannas are wonderfully unique and diverse habitats that support a range of important native plant and animal species. Several of these species are listed as threatened or endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Indiana, including the federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly, which previously made its home in the Indiana dunes before a range of factors contributed to its local population decline. The Karner blue butterfly depends upon its host plant, native lupine, to survive. Because lupines and other native species thrive in healthy oak savanna habitats, we hope that this restoration project will return the ecosystem to health and offer the plant and wildlife populations that depend upon the savanna structure an adequate habitat.

A savanna habitat is diverse because its sparsely distributed tree population allows for the presence of understory species that require an abundance of sunlight. In an oak savanna, large oak trees coexist with wildflowers and grasses and the wildlife that depend on both types of vegetation.

While oak savanna habitat can be found throughout the Indiana dunes, it is threatened due to the overgrowth of invasive species that limit the growth of native wildflowers and grasses. The increase of invasive species – both in number and extent – alters the oak savanna habitat structure that native plant and wildlife depend upon to thrive. While both the state and national park have worked hard to reduce the impact of invasive species, the agencies’ lack of sufficient resources needed to tackle such a demanding issue has limited the parks’ ability to fully address the threats of invasive species. This project will offer the opportunity to make strong progress in protecting and restoring our local black oak savanna habitat. Restoration activities include controlled burns, invasive species removal, and native planting.

The 1,077 acre restoration project will begin this summer and continue through summer of 2015. Visitors to the parks may notice equipment, woody debris piles, and periodic noise during the project. It may become necessary to close trails for a day or more to ensure visitor safety as workers carry out the restoration activities. Any temporary closures in the National Lakeshore sites will be posted on the Park website.

If folks are interested in learning about oak savanna habitats and the the native plant and wildlife they are home to, Save the Dunes, in partnership with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, is hosting a ranger-led hike of Miller Woods on July 10th. Following the hike, join Save the Dunes at 18th Street Brewery for a pint of craft beer. More information can be found here.

For more information regarding the Oak Savanna Restoration Project, visit the Save the Dunes website or contact parks program coordinator Cathy Martin for more details at cathy (at) savedunes.org.

Thanks to Cathy Martin of Save the Dunes for this exciting announcement and additional thanks to Joe Rocchio Photography for permission to use the excellent image from Miller Woods, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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