Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Alliance

cowles bog

Indiana Dunes Strategic Framework

In 2014 Save the Dunes and partners set out to create a strategic plan for the nearshore Indiana dunes ecosystem. The Indiana dunes are not a contiguous natural area; industries, residential communities, and infrastructure such as roads and utility rights-of-ways (ROWs) separate and fragment the Indiana dunes. The land that is protected within the Indiana dunes region is managed by different entities – the Indiana Department of Natural Resources manages the Indiana Dunes State Park, the National Park Service manages the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and nonprofits and municipalities also own and manage lands within the nearshore Indiana dunes system. The mixture of land uses and stakeholders creates a complex landscape for land management and protection. These complexities coupled with the high-quality of natural resources that are located within the Indiana dunes are the reasons Save the Dunes and partners of the Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Alliance (IDEA) wanted to craft a strategic plan.

Indiana Dunes Focus Area


Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Alliance

In 2015, Save the Dunes formed a new action-based coalition called IDEA. IDEA is comprised of representatives from the National Park Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the United States Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, Save the Dunes, and NIPSCO. We decided to include NIPSCO in these meetings becasue their utility ROWs cut through incredibly high quality habitat, and including their ecologists in conversations about management and invasive species control is crucial for the health of a site and the system as a whole. The goal of IDEA is to gather scientists and natural resource land managers to jointly identify and prioritize the sites in most need of protection in the Indiana dunes. To do this work, the group must blur the lines of ownership and think of the system as a whole. Together, the IDEA team is analyzing threats to the hotspots of biodiversity in the dunes, and clearly outlining strategies to address them. The IDEA team also works to streamline cooperative land management efforts – including equipment sharing and prescribed burn planning.

Miller Woods is an example of fragmentation not only on a large scale in the Indiana dunes, but within individual units. Miller Woods is one of the highest quality natural areas in the Indiana dunes and it is intersected by utility ROWs, adjacent to major industry (US Steel), and also adjacent to the City of Gary, who does not have the staff or funding resources to manage their natural areas, allowing invasive species to establish and spread.

Miller Woods is an example of fragmentation not only on a large scale in the Indiana dunes, but within individual units. Miller Woods is one of the highest quality natural areas in the Indiana dunes and it is intersected by utility ROWs and railroads, adjacent to major industry (US Steel), and also adjacent to the City of Gary, who does not have the staff or funding resources to manage their natural areas, allowing invasive species to establish and spread.

The strategic plan identifies conservation priorities, supporting systems, threats to conservation priorities, and strategies to address these threats as a collaborative group. While land management agencies have their own agency-specific plans that guide their management decisions, this Plan will be different and will look at the health of the system as a whole. It will blur jurisdictional boundaries and consider external threats as well as internal ones. For example, the National Park Service tackles threats within their properties such as invasive species, but this group will look at how adjacent landowners impact management efforts or how local policies can be strengthened to help protect natural areas.

Framework Process

In order to create this document, Save the Dunes convened meetings with land managers, scientists, and conservation organizations of the region to ask for input on the Plan. We created a work plan with annual objectives, tasks to achieve them, partners to involve, and measurable outcomes. One objective that the group identified was creating a list of priority sites, habitats, threats, and strategies. IDEA has been meeting for the last several months to designate our priority sites and habitats and accompanying threats and strategies to address threats. Using this information, we will create a set of strategies to protect our priority sites and habitats and will work towards our goal of maintaining and improving biodiversity while considering social, political, and economical realities that may impact our strategies and project ideas. The ultimate goal of this project is to create an achievable strategic plan that results in project implementation and partnership building.

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Ecologists, land managers, and conservation leaders meet to discuss how to better protect Miller Woods

To date, the team has determined the three geographies with the highest biodiversity in the Indiana dunes:

  • Cowles Bog
  • Miller Woods
  • Indiana Dunes State Park (state-dedicated nature preserve sections only)

We will begin outreach efforts for this project in 2016. Our goal is to convey the ecological significance of the dunes to the public, specifically adjacent landowners. Industries, residential communities, and agriculture have impacts on our high-quality habitats, but by sharing this document we can inform the public of ways to be stewards for the natural resources of Northwest Indiana.

The Indiana dunes are a biological gem and we have the unique opportunity to protect what we have before it’s lost. Collaborative efforts such as the Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Alliance and Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Plan are our best chance at maintaining the biodiversity and quality of the Indiana dunes. These parks should be a source of pride for us all!

Funding for this project is provided in part by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the Lake Michigan Coastal Program.

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