The holiday season is a time of giving. Save the Dunes would like you to consider our mission on this season of generosity. Working with donors like you, Save the Dunes has been able to accomplish a lot this year. We would like to tell you about one of our proudest accomplishments this year.

The Oak Savanna Restoration Project

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. This diversity of species is important because many rare, endangered, and high quality species depend on the healthy savanna structure, including both the Karner blue butterfly and its host plant, lupine.

A Karner blue butterfly on a lupine plant

Oak savannas were once abundant in the Midwest, only .02% remain. We are fortunate to have several sites of high quality oak savanna habitat right here in the Indiana dunes, but the habitat is suffering due to a reduced fire regimen and an increase in invasive species.The remnant black oak savanna habitat in the Miller Woods and Tolleston Dunes units of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore 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. 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.

A high quality oak savanna

Save the Dunes was aware of this funding gap and sought and received $1,000,000 for a collaborative effort between the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Indiana Dunes State Park to restore 1,077 acres of rare black oak savanna habitat in the Indiana dunes. The Oak Savanna Restoration Project restored the savanna structure and enable under canopy species to thrive. To ensure that the restoration work is maintained, Save the Dunes is partnering with  Indiana Dunes Ecosystem Alliance, a regional collaboration that will work together to craft strategies and implement projects to better protect high-quality areas in the Indiana Dunes.

Save the Dunes’ Executive Director, Nicole Barker and Parks Program Coordinator, Cathy Martin with Oak Savanna partners, Paul Labus from the Nature Conservancy and Gia Wagner of the National Park Service.

As a bonus, the project allowed the National Park Service to hire a crew of young environmental workers to give them real world experience to take with them as their careers unfold.

The Oak Savanna crew pictured with Save the Dunes Executive Director, Nicole Barker at Tolleston Dunes.

Without support from partners like you Save the Dunes would not be able to make projects like this one happen. As we look forward to the coming year and our exciting list of projects all geared toward protecting the Indiana Dunes. The staff at Save the Dunes hopes you will partner with us to do more work like this.

Click here to donate today.


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