A major restoration project is getting underway this summer to save a rare, disappearing habitat in Indiana.
More than 1,000 acres of black oak savanna will be restored by the National Park Service in Miller Woods and Tolleston Dunes, along with 32 acres to be restored at Indiana Dunes State Park. Cathy Martin, parks program coordinator with Michigan City-based Save the Dunes, says the Midwest once had a great abundance of high-quality oak savanna, but just a small fraction remains.
"This area is so bio-diverse it's a true gem, and oak savanna habitat is extremely rare," says Martin. "If you've ever hiked Miller Woods, it's beautiful. You see wildflowers, grasses, big gorgeous oak trees, and it's really a unique place."
Martin says invasive species that limit the growth of native wildflowers and grasses are threatening the black oak savanna habitat in the Indiana Dunes. A savanna habitat is unique because its sparsely distributed tree population allows for the presence of native wildflowers and grasses which require an abundance of sunlight.
Martin says oak savannas also support a broad range of important native plant and animal species, including the federally-endangered Karner blue butterfly. She says they hope to improve the habitat to provide the best possible conditions for it and other species.
"It's something we're crossing our fingers for," says Martin. "Everyone has always loved the Karner blue butterfly and its numbers have gone down. We're not seeing them in the Indiana Dunes anymore, so we're hoping to have them come back to us again."
The restoration effort begins this summer and is expected to continue into 2015. It is a joint effort of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Dunes State Park and Save the Dunes.