Governor Mitch Daniels today announced a major land conservation initiative that will position Indiana as a leader in wetlands and riparian protection. The new project, which includes two separate habitat areas, is the largest ever undertaken by the Department of Natural Resources. Daniels will announce the second part of the project, located in southeastern Indiana, on Friday.
The state will begin to acquire 43,000 acres located in the flood plain of the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in west central Indiana that will benefit wildlife, public recreation and the environment. The area, which follows 94 river miles along the Wabash River, stretches across four counties from Shades State Park to Fairbanks Landing Fish & Wildlife Area south of Terre Haute. The Wabash site is larger than the combined size of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Brown County State Park and will increase DNR-owned riparian wetland areas by more than 64 percent.
"Our goal is to make this a landmark era for conservation of natural beauty in our state and make Indiana a national leader in wetlands and wildlife protection," the governor said. "Coupled with Goose Pond, our experts believe that the new 94-mile continuous Wabash River habitat will become one of the major Eastern U.S. waterfowl destinations and a tourist destination along with it."
The state will use $21.5 million from the Lifetime License Trust Fund, a state trust fund dedicated to conservation purposes, and $10 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to begin the acquisitions. This investment will leverage millions of dollars in additional private and federal funding for both the protection and restoration of the corridor.
Additional support will come from The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited, a national conservation group based in Memphis, Tenn.
"This restoration project will help ensure the landscapes and communities that make Indiana great will thrive for generations to come, while also serving as a model for other river conservation projects across the country," said Mark Tercek, CEO and president of The Nature Conservancy.
The DNR will work to acquire land in the area from willing sellers, building upon the recent excitement regarding the future Wabashiki Fish & Wildlife Area, a proposed 7,000-acre project along the Wabash River in West Terre Haute. The overall Wabash project eventually will be six times larger than the 8,000-acre Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area, which was purchased in 2006.
The key objectives of the initiative are to:
* design an effective model for sustainability of natural resources by connecting fragmented parcels of public land
* restore and enhance riparian corridors
* protect essential habitat for threatened and endangered species
* open public access for recreational opportunities
* preserve significant rest areas for migratory birds, especially waterfowl
* create a regionally significant conservation destination
* provide additional flood relief to current riparian landowners.
"In the last five years, Indiana has protected more land than in any comparable period but Governor Daniels challenged us to think big. His directive gave us the opportunity to talk to our conservation partners about doing something off the charts. This project, and a second that will be announced tomorrow are in response to that challenge," said DNR Commissioner Rob Carter.
The Sugar Creek and Wabash River corridors are rich biological reservoirs containing many of Indiana's rarest fish, mussels, birds and plants. Bald eagles and great blue herons nest in the river corridors, and the wooded valleys are home to such rare interior forest bird species as the Cerulean warbler. Federally endangered aquatic mussels such as the clubshell, Eastern fanshell, pink mucket and white wartyback are found in Sugar Creek or the Wabash. The Canada yew, Eastern hemlock and white pine - all ice age remnants now rare in Indiana - are abundant along Sugar Creek.