The Completed Oak Savanna Restoration Project
The project to restore 1,077 acres of rare black oak savanna habitat in Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, and the Indiana Dunes State Park was completed on December 15, 2015.
Save the Dunes will be leading a hike to celebrate the completion of the project on May 26th, 2016 at 6:00pm. Please meet us at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education in Gary to join us for a hike of the Miller Woods restoration. Contact Cathy@Savedunes.org to register for the hike.
A settlement between US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Dominion Energy – who owned and operated the State Line Power Plant in Hammond – resulted in available funding for mitigation projects in and around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Save the Dunes submitted a project proposal in partnership with the National Park Service and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that has been approved under the settlement.
The project is truly exciting. A total of 1,077 acres of black oak savanna habitat will have undergone ecological restoration work by January 1, 2016. The National Park Service will be restoring 1,045 acres of rare native black oak savanna habitat in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s 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. This is a thrilling project that will have a significant impact on Indiana dunes natural resources, and Save the Dunes is proud to be working in partnership with the National Park Service and Indiana Dunes State Park.
Oak Savanna Habitat
Black oak savanna is a 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.
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.
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.
The remnant black oak savanna habitat in the Indiana dunes is threatened due to the overgrowth of invasive species that limit the growth of native wildflowers and grasses. When overgrowth of trees and shrubs is not controlled, under-story species cannot compete for resources and the diversity that an oak savanna structure supports diminishes. Overgrowth of aggressive, invasive, and nonnative species occurs when fire is limited; prescribed burns (and historically wildfires) are an important tool in maintaining the oak savanna structure because they help control woody species and are beneficial to grasses and flowers. Between limited funding and staff resources and the location of our parks in an urbanized setting, burns often do not occur as frequently as necessary to maintain a healthy oak savanna.
Ecologically significant species thrive in healthy oak savanna habitats. Native lupine, a beautiful blue wildflower, is often found in savanna habitats. Lupine is the host plant for 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. Both the plant and the butterfly depend upon the conditions characteristic of a healthy savanna habitat to survive and thrive.
Oak Savanna Restoration Project
The Oak Savanna Restoration Project is restoring black oak savanna in Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, and the Indiana Dunes State Park through prescribed burns, manual invasive species removal, and native planting. Through this restoration project, we hope to see the oak savanna structure restored and the native plant and animal life thriving within the healthy savanna. We also hope to see species that we have lost or are losing, such as the Karner blue butterfly, return to the Indiana dunes.
1077 acres of oak savanna will be restored by January 1, 2016, however, the project will not end there. Maintenance of this restoration project is crucial for ensuring lasting and meaningful impacts. The National Park Service and Indiana Department of Natural Resources will continue to manage these restoration sites to reduce regrowth of aggressive trees and shrubs and will work alongside the Indiana Coastal Cooperative Weed Management Area to implement a monitoring phase of the project in which the restoration site at Miller Woods will be monitored to ensure that invasive species do not re-establish. In addition, the Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Alliance has outlined the conservation priorities of Miller Woods, their supporting systems, threats to conservation targets, and strategies to address these threats. As this project wraps up, the regional collaboration will work together to craft strategies and implement projects to better protect high-quality areas such as Miller Woods. For more information on that project, click here.
For more information regarding the Oak Savanna Restoration Project, contact parks program coordinator Cathy Martin at Cathy @ savedunes . org or call (219) 879 5464 x 126
Press Coverage on the Oak Savanna Project