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Ecologically Rich Areas - Critical Ecosystem Team
  June 1999 Draft


Ecologically Rich Areas

Critical Ecosystems nominated by partners by county

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No region in the Midwest has been as greatly impacted by human activity as Northwest Indiana. Pre-European settlement, a series of white pine and jack pine-covered dunes, and swales rich in wetland species, paralleled Lake Michigan. Inland, the dune and swale topography met the Calumet marshes. Further south, the Great Kankakee Marsh was a resting and nesting place for thousands of birds. Oak savannas and tall-grass prairies interspersed dune and swale and marshes. East, to the Valparaiso Moraine, a high ridge marking the edge of the last glacier, eastern woodland plant species met western prairie and remnant boreal forest.

Although it is undoubtedly still the richest region in Indiana and in the Great Lakes basin in terms of biodiversity, Northwest Indiana ecosystems are fragmented and under constant, diverse stress from multiple sources. Without restoration of ecosystem functions and structures, their long term viability is severely threatened.

The good news is that the stressors and their sources, for the most part, have been identified and agencies and organizations are working together to set priorities and remedy problems. In spite of the small sizes of some of the sites and the distance between them, management strategies have generally taken a wider perspective in order to minimize the effects of fragmentation and other threats.

Northwest Indiana ecosystems, although under severe and continuing stress from many sources, are improving in quality due to the efforts of many organizations and agencies to protect remaining high quality areas and to restore degraded areas. Further, current EPA efforts in the area, while varied, have had a great influence on protecting and restoring critical ecosystems. Better coordination among Divisions and Offices within EPA is needed to maximize benefits for Northwest Indiana.

Ecological Values 
Seven counties in Northwest Indiana – Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski, and Starke – constitute the richest area of biodiversity in Indiana and one of the richest areas in the Great Lakes basin. Situated in both the Mississippi and Great Lakes Watersheds, this ecologically diverse area is the result of glacier activity that ended more than 10,000 years ago.

Despite an extensive history of development for industry and habitat alteration, an impressive array of biodiversity features remains in Northwest Indiana. There are hundreds of plant species in this region, including the Indiana’s largest cluster of the State’s 39 native orchid species. Relict communities, left after successive glaciers, include boreal forest disjunct species, eastern woodland species, and western tallgrass prairie species. Insect and amphibian species, some rare, still abound. Specific rare species are the Federally endangered Karner blue butterfly and Massasauga rattlesnake.  

The Kankakee River Basin once included one of the largest wetlands in the continental United States, the 500,000 acre Grand Kankakee Marsh. Though most of the wetland has been drained for agriculture, this area is still important habitat for breeding and migrating waterfowl, as well as other wildlife species. The Kankakee River Basin supports five Federally threatened or endangered species, 10 candidate species for a Federal threatened or endangered listing, and 220 State threatened or endangered species. The Jasper-Pulaski and Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Areas provide nesting and resting habitat for large populations of sandhill cranes during spring and fall migrations.

The Calumet Watershed is part of the old glacial Lake Chicago lakeplain and is defined by continuous beach ridges interspersed with swales. Today, most of the original landscape is gone, covered with residential and big industrial complexes. The remaining fragments contain a high level of biodiversity, including rare and endangered plant species. The dune and swale Clark and Pine complex has more than 350 plant species. Birds also abound here, and include the black-crowned night heron and sora rail. Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve is rich in tallgrass species. The Grand Calumet River, reversed in the last century to flow toward the Mississippi River, is a degraded, channelized remnant of its former self, but with restoration, has the potential as habitat for numerous aquatic species.

East of the City of Gary and along the southern Lake Michigan shoreline lies an area of beaches and dune ridges paralleling the Lake. The endangered pitcher’s thistle is an early colonizer on foredunes. The low areas between each ridge are swales, pannes, and marshes. These wetlands are diverse and contain many rare and endangered plants and animals. Secondary dunes, inland from the Lake, were once covered with white and jack pines. However, after years of logging, these dunes today contain black oak savannas with a grassy understory. The endangered Karner blue butterfly with its lupine caterpillar-host plant favors the oak environment. Birds stop at the dunes on their migrational pathways. Porter Beach and Lake Street Beach are prime spots to observe shorebirds, gulls, and the spring hawk migration.

The Valparaiso Moraine is a rugged area south of the dunes. It is the terminal point of the Wisconsin glacier. This area contains higher, rolling woodlands containing small, peaty lakes and streams.

Near the Indiana-Michigan state line in northeastern LaPorte County are eastern deciduous forest remnants. These beech-maple communities have a rich, spring flora, distinctively different from their dune, oak savanna neighbors.

The Lake Michigan shoreline is a major bird migration stopover, with publically owned beaches and dunes stretching for miles. The lake itself is a significant sport fishing area.

Multi-Partner Stewardship Efforts 
A series of publicly owned parks and preserves, and privately owned natural-state fragments dot the Northwest Indiana region (see Appendix A). However, even though some of these areas are in public ownership and designated "parks" does not mean they are being managed well or in a coordinated fashion. Likewise, because something is in private ownership does not mean it is necessarily degraded or mismanaged.

The following initiatives focus on the protection and restoration of ecosystems in Northwest Indiana. Although led by different agencies or organizations, all of the initiatives require cooperation of partners (see Appendix B).

Calumet Ecological Park Feasibility Study:
Although the designation of the Calumet area as an "ecological park" is not imminent, community groups who called for a 1998 feasibility study by the National Park Service are continuing to pursue park designation through Federal Congressional representatives.

Chicago Wilderness:
Chicago Wilderness is a partnership of more than 75 public and private organizations that have joined forces to protect, restore and manage the natural lands of areas in the Chicago region, including Northwest Indiana. The organizations have pooled their resources and their expertise and enlisted the help of thousands of volunteers to develop management plans, monitor changes in ecological conditions, conduct scientific research, and act to protect and restore more than 200 areas.

Coffee Creek Development:
Coffee Creek of Chesterton, Indiana is a 600-acre development incorporating single family residences, high density apartments, a commercial district, and a riparian stream restoration corridor. One third of the development area is preserved in perpetuity as a nature preserve. Management responsibility for the preserve has been given to a not-for-profit land trust made up of members from area environmental groups and supported by property assessments. The buildings will all be constructed with the latest energy efficient and environmentally sound materials. The development exemplifies an alternative to traditional "sprawl" development.

Grand Calumet River/Indiana Harbor Ship Canal Remedial Action Plan:
All 14 beneficial uses in this Great Lakes basin Area of Concern (AOC) are impaired. In 1990 the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) opened an office in Gary to begin to restore impaired uses in the area. A public advisory committee, the Citizen’s Advisory for the Remediation of the Environment Committee (CARE) was formed to assist in implementing the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) to address the impairments. The Habitat Subcommittee of the CARE Committee is working to identify priorities for restoration.

Greater Calumet Wetlands/Indiana Dunes Ecoregional Planning:
A project manager has been hired and has begun to manage The Nature Conservancy (TNC)-owned preserves, work with public and private landowners to develop management plans for properties with significant biodiversity elements, and identify strategies to restore the ecological function and structure of degraded areas. TNC is fund-raising to support protection and restoration activities in this region, identified as one of Indiana’s "last great places." TNC is in the process of formulating an ecoregional plan. With numerous partners, important sites have been identified. These will be prioritized and conservation measures explored. The planning includes both aquatic and terrestrial considerations.

Karner Blue Butterfly Recovery Plan:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and several industrial corporations are all part of the Karner blue butterfly endangered species recovery planning process. Northwest Indiana has several of the largest remaining populations of this imperiled species. Restoration of degraded but protected butterfly habitat is taking place as well as reintroduction of the butterfly to areas previously known to be habitat.

North America Wetlands Conservation Act Grant:
The Upper Mississippi River-Great Lakes Region Joint Venture recently awarded a grant to a consortium of state and local partners in Northwest Indiana to purchase and restore lands which are key breeding and migratory waterfowl and neotropical migrant habitats.

Pitcher’s Thistle Recovery Plan:
The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) Southern Lake Michigan Station is heading up the recovery planning for the Federally endangered pitcher’s thistle. The thistle is an early colonial plant which flowers in its seventh year and then dies. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with other dune areas in Northwest Indiana, contain prime pitchers thistle habitat.

Proposed Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge:
An Environmental Assessment has been conducted by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to serve as a vehicle to restore, preserve, and enhance grassland and wetland-dependent populations of fish and wildlife in the river basin. The Nature Conservancy has opened a field office in the area and has begun to restore acquired farmland to wetland with the help of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. This work will complement a new refuge.

U.S. EPA’s Current Stewardship in Northwest Indiana:
Due to the severity of pollution problems, EPA Region 5 has maintained a strong presence in Northwest Indiana for many years. It was the first EPA geographic initiative enforcement area, using a multi-media approach to prosecute industrial point source dischargers. Creation of geographic and theme EPA teams have helped to broaden EPA’s role in the area to include partnership building and community based environmental protection to complement EPA’s traditional enforcement efforts. The Northwest Indiana Team plays a coordinating role for the area, working with many agencies and organizations. The Lake Michigan Team incorporates Northwest Indiana concerns into Lake Michigan Lakewide Management Planning (LaMP) activities. The Sediments Team has been working on Indiana Harbor dredging issues. The Critical Ecosystems team has identified Northwest Indiana as one of five Indiana "Ecologically Rich Areas." The Water Division’s Wetlands and Watersheds group is completing an Advanced Identification of Wetlands for northern Lake and Porter Counties. The non-point source group has funded numerous projects in the area. Superfund spill mapping of the region will be a reality soon. EPA helps foster Supplemental Environmental Projects and Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlements in coordination with other agencies to hopefully have a positive impact on natural areas in Northwest Indiana. The Great Lakes National Program Office has identified Northwest Indiana as part of the Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Investment Area and has awarded numerous grants for protection and restoration projects over the years.

Human-Induced Stresses Impacting the Area   

Alteration of the Chemical Regime:

  • In aquatic systems, including Lake Michigan, streams, inland lakes, and wetlands, the addition of toxic compounds from point and non-point sources has caused death or chronic impairments to wildlife. Several toxic chemicals have bioaccumulated in top aquatic predators, affecting reproductive functions.

  • The introduction of nutrients – phosphates and nitrogen compounds – has caused an increase in microorganisms that deplete oxygen required by aquatic fauna.

  • Atmospheric deposition of acids has damaged plants and animals that depend on surface water.

  • Salinity changes brought on by road salting threaten both upland and aquatic habitats.

Alteration of Hydrology:

  • Human induced lake level changes and natural fluctuation interruptions, particularly on the Lake Michigan shoreline, have disrupted the dynamic functioning of shoreline systems.

  • The flushing of nutrients and organic matter from tributaries has been severely disrupted. As a result, beach and dune nourishment has been altered.

  • Alteration in stream flows has caused stress to fish and other organisms.

  • Widespread irrigation and drainage have altered water tables, impacted soil moisture, and affected wetlands and prairies and the species that depend on them.

Alteration of Physical Processes:

  • Removal of riparian vegetation has altered the flow regimes of streams and destroyed wetlands. This has resulted in a rise in water temperature and changes in ecological conditions, and has adversely impacted aquatic species.

  • Along Lake Michigan, shoreline armoring, jetties, groynes, marinas, and other structures which jut out into the lake, have disrupted the longshore currents which transport sediments. The result is that beach and dune communities, which need a constant supply of sand from these currents, have been sand starved.

  • Suspended sediments have reduced light penetration resulting in a decrease in primary productivity of phytoplankton and submergent aquatic vegetation. This has eliminated fish spawning areas and habitat for mussels. Sedimentation has been greatest in areas of development and ongoing construction activities.

  • Historically, Northwest Indiana ecological communities depended on fire as part of their natural cycle. Fire adds nutrients to the soil for deep–rooted plants and prevents the succession of woody plants. Removal of fire from natural systems has changed plant community structures throughout Northwest Indiana.

Direct Alteration of Habitat:

  • Widespread wetland draining and filling has eliminated species and communities.

  • Diking and barriers such as roads have disrupted hydrologic processes and fragmented ecological communities. These barriers have disrupted connectivity and created edge effects, thereby restricting wildlife populations to smaller areas.

  • Conversion of land to agricultural, residential, industrial, and commercial uses has eliminated species and habitat as well as caused the isolation plant and animal populations. The results are a decrease in gene flow and restricted movement and access to resources.

  • Use of recreational vehicles, particularly in dunes, has destroyed vegetation and accelerated erosion. On lakes, jet skis and boats have uprooted submergent vegetation or caused wakes that disturb aquatic species.

  • Channelization of streams and rivers and draining or paving floodplains have altered flow regimes. The results are a loss of aquatic biota and bank erosion.

Alteration of Biological Structure:

  • Invasive species such as zebra mussels, purple loosestrife, and garlic mustard have altered the forage base, competed more successfully than native species for light, water, and food, and impacted food webs in all Northwest Indiana systems.

  • Over-harvest of fish in Lake Michigan has led to major declines of native species.

EPA’s Contribution 
Continue to maintain a strong enforcement presence in the region. Although much progress has been made, the region is still beset by the greatest pollution in Region 5, with numerous water, air, and land problems that contribute to the overall degradation of quality of life, for animals (including humans) and plants.

  • Continue to work with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and other organizations on implementation of the Remedial Action Plan for the Indiana Harbor Area of Concern (AOC).

  • Maintain a strong Northwest Indiana Regional Team to coordinate EPA efforts and with the regional Critical Ecosystems Team to protect and restore ecosystems.

  • Assist the region with technical support whenever possible. There are numerous occasions when a wetlands expert, a toxicologist, or an ecologist could be of service. Good will could be engendered by offering our expertise through the Community-Based Environmental Protection (CBEP) approach.

  • Continue to offer financial support in the form of grants, contracts and interagency agreements in the areas of environmental justice, brownfields, sustainability, non-point source control, wetlands, education, and protection and restoration of habitats to benefit ecosystems.

  • Review The Nature Conservancy’s Aquatic Community Classification Framework document for the preliminary aquatic conservation sites in Northwest Indiana and re-evaluate the EPA’s roles in protecting those sites, including how Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), wetland, and non-point work can be of use in protection efforts.



The central Indiana region was once a beech, maple and oak forest which is now largely fragmented. The Wabash River is one of the longest free flowing rivers east of the Rocky Mountains. Although agriculture dominates this region, aggressive management of private lands with a consideration for wildlife and forest values can help restore the area and provide wildlife corridors and water quality protection. Farming practices can include conservation measures, such as buffer zones and erosion controls, in order to protect biological diversity through protection of riparian zones (ELI 1995).

Habitat loss is a problem in central Indiana. Currently less than one thousandth of one percent of native prairies remain in Indiana, some only protected where they are found in cemeteries. Numerous Federal and State listings of species as endangered or threatened are closely linked to the loss of habitat in the region. Over 120 plants which naturally occur in wetlands and over 60 species of animals which are wetland-dependent are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Most significantly, erosion, sedimentation and run-off from agricultural activities is threatening aquatic species, including fresh water mussel species, in the area.

Ecological Values 
Central Indiana contains the counties of Parke, Fountain, Montgomery, Putnam, Hendricks, Boone, Warren and Tippecanoe. Due to numerous rivers and creeks, riverine values are often cited as the region’s greatest ecological value. At-risk fish and mussel species are highlighted in The Nature Conservancy "Rivers of Life" publication. In the Middle Wabash-Little Vermilion area in the North Central Tillplain, there are 14 such imperiled species; in the Vermilion Central Tallgrass Prairie, there are 9 such imperiled species; and in the Tippecanoe North Central Tillplain, there are 21 such imperiled species. Of these imperiled species, six are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act as either threatened or endangered. Sugar Creek contains a high diversity of aquatic species. Mud Pine Creek, Fall Creek, Indian Creek, Bear Creek and Big Pine Creek are designated as "exceptional use" streams by Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Prairie habitat is also critical in the area.

Big Walnut Preserve is an outstanding scenic area with steep sided ravines along the Big Walnut Creek, containing glacial-relict stands of eastern hemlock and Canada yew. It also contains areas of virgin forest and one of a few remaining examples of a beech-sugar maple-tulip poplar climax forest in Indiana.

Multi-Partner Stewardship Efforts 
Over 40 neotropical migratory bird species are under special management in Indiana. Several areas have been designated Natural Community Campaign Areas. Sugar Creek has been targeted for protection under the "Saving our Last Great Places" fund established by the The Nature Conservancy. This fund has also targeted Big Walnut for protection in a program which will leverage public resources and new and existing partnerships. The restoration of riparian vegetation along Big Walnut Creek is being conducted by The Nature Conservancy and Cinergy, a large energy company. A variety of federal programs exist which protect erodible farmland, wetlands and wildlife.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified several areas, including Sugar Creek, Fountain County, Wea Creek, Lower Big Raccoon and BigWalnut/Deer Creek, as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) areas. In this program, the NRCS will provide technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water and related natural resource concerns in an environmentally beneficial manner.

Human-Induced Stresses Impacting the Area  

  • Sedimentation, agricultural run-off, wetland loss, habitat fragmentation, wastewater treatment, contaminated sites, leaking landfills and bacterial contamination are all ecological stressors in the region.

  • The Wabash River Basin drains about 33,000 square miles in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. In Indiana, it drains two-thirds of the State’s surface area, containing 30 municipal, 18 industrial and 7 electrical wastewater treatment facilities. Although most rivers and streams in Central Indiana support fish, shellfish and other aquatic life, 82% were found to be frequently unsafe for swimming due to E. Coli contamination.

  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources surveys water quality throughout the State every two years pursuant to the Clean Water Act. The most recent watershed quality ratings for the Wabash River Basin are moderate habitat quality, moderate macroinvertebrate levels, good abundance aquatic life, poor recreational opportunities, moderate fish advisories and moderate overall quality.

  • Neotropical bird populations have declined in the region due to habitat fragmentation and nest predation.

  • There is significant utilization of ground water for drinking water and for agriculture and industrial uses, which affects aquatic resources in the area.

  • Surviving populations of rare species are losing genetic variation as habitat fragmentation leads to isolation of species.

EPA’s Contribution 
Protection of endangered species is needed. EPA’s regulatory programs should consider the health of these species within central Indiana, and incorporate endangered and threatened species protection into permitting, enforcement and restoration activities.

  • About 4% of the State’s cropland is eroding at an alarming rate, and aquatic species must be protected from sedimentation and run-off.

  • Watershed Management is supported at all levels of management at EPA and there are active projects which are undertaking restoration of watersheds, wetlands and waterways. EPA needs to work with corporations, public and private landowners and other government agencies to enhance protection of biological diversity within watersheds in central Indiana and to improve overall management of natural resources.

  • EPA can share knowledge about its activities with local, state and federal agencies. The type of knowledge that EPA can share with partners includes information about toxic releases, clean-up of abandoned hazardous waste sites, permitted landfills, recycling centers and other environmental data.

  • EPA can inform private citizens and children about the value of the area, ways local citizens can help conserve and restore the area, and the status of current protection efforts.

  • EPA Ecosystem Team can provide information on the value and restoration/protection needs of specific areas to complement the agency’s enforcement efforts in the region. Specifically, this information can be used by EPA to encourage alleged violators of federal environmental laws to carry out Supplemental Environmental Projects which create/restore/protect natural areas as part of a settlement.

  • The EPA Ecosystem Team can also provide information to interested partners on the habitat needs and habits of threatened and endangered species within central Indiana. Further, the EPA Ecosystem Team can suggest specific methods to mitigate the adverse impact of habitat fragmentation on imperiled species, such as creating links or habitat corridors between fragments.



Pre-European settlement, southeast Indiana was an area of upland forest, rivers rich in aquatic species and unusual cave and Karst communities. Today, water and aquatic habitat quality are key concerns and in particular, it is important to maintain the exceptionally high water quality of the Blue River. Hoosier National Forest is still considered a major neotropical migrant breeding ground.

Non-point source pollution is a concern in this area. Proper regulation of land use in this region will help improve stream water and riparian quality. Properly controlled land use will also help to preserve the Karst topography that makes this region so unique. Access to caves should be tightly controlled.

Ecological Values 
The counties of Harrison, Floyd, Crawford, Orange, Jackson, Perry, Washington and Clark, as well as parts of Scott and Jennings Counties in Southeast Indiana contain a number of significant habitats and critical ecosystems.

The White and Ohio Rivers provide habitat for threatened and endangered fish and mussel species and both contain high biodiversity. The Lost and Blue River contain important habitats due to the unusual Karst topography in the region, including caves and their associated rare biota. These rivers support high biodiversity and provide habitat for State and Federal threatened and endangered species such as cave biota, fish and mussel species. Lost River is unusual because a large part of it flows underground. The Knobstone ecosystem has stone outcroppings and caves, which provide habitat for many rare species. In addition, the Knobstone uplands are heavily forested. The Muscatatuck Wildlife Refuge is important for waterfowl and migratory bird use, and provides habitat for endangered and threatened species.

Hoosier National Forest contains half of the public forest land in Indiana and contains more than 50 state endangered, threatened or special concern vertebrate animal species and more than 140 state endangered, threatened or special concern plants.

Multi-Partner Stewardship Efforts   
A number of Community Campaign Sites protect representatives of important ecosystems in this region. The Nature Conservancy and Indiana Department of Natural Resources support efforts to preserve the Blue River and Knobstone ecosystem. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management recognizes the high water quality of the Blue River. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified several watersheds, including Upper Fourteen Mile Creek, Sinking Fork of Silver Creek, Sandy Branch, Blue River, Pigeon Creek, and Kimberlin Creek, as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) areas. In this program, the NRCS will provide technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water and related natural resource concerns in an environmentally beneficial manner. The Indiana Department of Environmental Resources has released otters and trumpeter swans into the Muscatatuck Wildlife Refuge. The U. S. Geological Survey has funded a study of the cave-dwelling species in the Blue River. Hoosier National Forest protects contiguous forested areas, some of them virgin, and harbors endangered Indiana brown bats.

Human-Induced Stresses Impacting the Area  

  • Exotic and invasive species threaten the fish and mussel diversity of the river ecosystems. Illegal harvesting of mussels is a threat to this imperiled biota.

  • The region is at high risk to groundwater contamination due to its hydrology. Sinkholes formed as a result of the Karst topography provide a direct link to groundwater. Sinkholes that are hydrologically connected to cave systems are often used as trash pits. The cave ecosystems in this area are dependent on clean groundwater for their survival.

  • Heavy recreational use degrades cave ecosystems.

  • Sedimentation and runoff are threatening all of the aquatic systems. Non-point source pollution in the form of nitrate and pesticide enrichment may adversely affect these systems.

  • Fragmentation and development threaten forested habitat.

  • Levels of ozone pollution in Floyd and Clark counties are high.

EPA’s Contribution 

  • Non-point source pollution issues need to be considered in permitting activities.

  • Ozone pollution should be carefully monitored in this region.

  • Review of wetland permits in this area should focus on the importance of riparian wetlands and water quality.



Southwest Indiana was once dominated by cypress swamps, oak forests and bottomland swamps. Nearly all of the natural features of this region exist as an indirect result of the meandering nature of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, including numerous oxbow lakes and sloughs. The 1998 Indiana State of the Environment Report identified more than 20,000 acres of wetland habitat in each of Gibson and Posey Counties, 10-20,000 acres within Warrick County and less than 5,000 acres of remaining wetland habitat in Vandenburg County. Much of the area is being impacted by land use changes, loss of habitat and air and water pollution. A regional strategy for ecosystem protection, management and restoration should be developed to preserve natural resources in the area.

Ecological Values 
Few areas in Indiana foster the natural complexity and biological diversity of southwest Indiana, encompassing the counties of Gibson, Pike, Vanderburgh, Posey and Warrick. Within this region, bald cypress swamps remind us of a once common ecosystem. Bottomland and floodplain forests and oak-dominated flatwoods predating European settlement are rare but treasured. Plants and animals that are more typical of the deep South are only found in this small region of the State, as are many rare, threatened and/or endangered species. The Bottomlands are part of the Mississippi Flyway and are productive breeding, resting and feeding grounds for migrating birds. Some of this habitat is included in the Patoka National Wildlife Refuge.

In Gibson County at the Cinergy Gibson Power Generating Station and at Gibson Lake, a colony of Least Terns, an endangered species, thrives and is expanding its population throughout the Wabash River basin.

The East Fork of the White River in Pike County and a portion of the White River in Gibson County supports a high diversity of aquatic species. The Ohio River is one of the most important riverine resources in United States.

Multi-Partner Stewardship Efforts 
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has identified Community Campaign Sites in the area. The following is a summary of the sites, by county.

Gibson County: Coffee Bayou Site; Hemmer Woods Site; and Saunders Woods
Pike County: Slackwater Bottoms Site

Posey County: Section Six Southern Flatwoods Site; Slim Pond Flatwoods; and the Twin Swamps/Styrax Site

Warrick County: Bloomfield Barrens Site
The Pigeon Creek watershed overlaps Gibson, Vanderburg and Warrick Counties and is identified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as an Environmental Quality Incentive Program area. The Nature Conservancy has nominated the Wabash/Ohio Lowlands as a candidate bioreserve in Indiana. The Patoka River National Wetlands Project will protect the river and adjacent wetlands and restore the degraded floodplain.

Human-Induced Stresses Impacting the Area  

  • Threats in this area include fragmentation of habitat, land use changes leading to alteration and/or loss of habitat, point and non-point pollution and the invasion of exotic species.

  • Impairment to aquatic resources include discharges from industrial and municipal facilities.

  • There are no identified contaminated sites in extreme southwest Indiana, although there are voluntary cleanup sites in Gibson (1) and Vandenburg (2) Counties. Only one solid waste landfill exists in this area; however, it is located very close to the Ohio River. Small scale waste tire dumps exist in Pike (1), Posey (2), Vandenburg (2), and Warrick (1) Counties.

  • Information also indicates that the counties of Posey, Vandenburg and Warrick are subject to higher than average toxic air releases.

EPA’s Contribution  

  • Regional ecosystem team needs to work with Water, Air and Waste Divisions to characterize EPA’s presence in this region to formulate a strategy for ecosystem protection.



Northeast Indiana, extending westward from the Black Swamp of Lake Erie, historically contained many fens, bogs, marshes, prairies, lakes and forests. The aquatic habitats supported a diversity of plant and animal species, including numerous freshwater mussels. Today, most of the ecological values in this region are related to aquatic systems. Non-point source pollution is a concern in this area. Land use in this area should be considered with the goal of the improvement of stream quality in mind. Riparian zones should be restored to protect water quality. Buffers around remaining quality wetlands should be established to shunt runoff from roadway and rural housing developments, minimizing runoff and septic impacts.

Ecological Values 
The counties of Steuben, LaGrange, DeKalb, Allen and Noble in northeast Indiana contain a number of significant habitats. The landscape is level to gently rolling, in a mosaic of land uses. These include primarily pasture, soybean and corn agriculture, and residential areas interspersed with streams and bottomland hardwoods, upland central hardwood forest, and occasional riparian marshlands. The upland soils are primarily well drained, rich and loamy, while bottomlands vary from sands and gravels to clays and humic soils. The St. Joseph River, Fish Creek and Pigeon River provide habitat for threatened and endangered fish and mussel species and contain high biodiversity. The Pigeon River ecosystem contains an array of bogs, fens, sedge meadows and marshes, as well as the state’s largest tamarack swamp. Cedar Creek is designated as an outstanding state resource water. Fish Creek supports the richest aquatic community in the Great Lakes watershed and is the only known location of the federally endangered White Catspaw mussel.

Multi-Partner Stewardship Efforts 
A number of "Community Campaign Sites" protect representatives of important ecosystems in this region. The Nature Conservancy and Indiana Department of Natural Resources support efforts to preserve the Pigeon River and Fish Creek ecosystems. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management recognizes Cedar Creek as an outstanding resource water. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has identified several watersheds, including Pigeon Creek, Crooked Creek, Buck Creek and Cedar Creek, as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) areas. In this program, the NRCS will provide technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water and related natural resource concerns on lands in this watershed in and environmentally beneficial manner.

Human-Induced Stresses Impacting the Area  

  • Exotic and invasive species threaten the fish and mussel diversity of the river ecosystems. Illegal harvesting of mussels is a threat.

  • This area is at high risk from groundwater contamination, particularly from nitrates.

  • Sedimentation and runoff, primarily from agricultural sources, are threatening all of the aquatic systems.

  • Non-point source pollution in the form of nutrient and pesticide enrichment may adversely affect these systems.

  • Phosphorus from agricultural activities is responsible for eutrophication of surface waters, including impacts to Lakes Michigan and Erie and their tributaries.

  • Runoff impacts from highways and urban areas are typical of the north central states. Surface and groundwater near highways and developed areas experience elevated chloride levels, with deleterious local effects on native wetland species.

EPA’s Contribution 

  • Wetland permits in this area should be reviewed with the importance of riparian wetlands to water quality in mind.

  • EPA has ongoing assistance programs for the state via its Section 106 surface water quality and 319 watershed management programs, and it provides habitat protection and restoration and water quality research and demonstration grants to sections within the Great Lakes basin.

Appendix A–Northwest Indiana Protected Natural Areas  back to top

The following is a list of publicly and privately protected natural areas in the Region, some of which have been identified as critical by conservation partners active in the area.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Bass Lake
Berns-Meyer Nature Preserve
Clark and Pine State Nature Preserve
Cressmoor Prairie State Nature Preserve
Hoosier Prairie
Indiana Dunes State Park
Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area
Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area
Kingsbury Fish and Wildlife Area
LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area
Tippecanoe River State Park
Tolleston Ridges
Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area
Winamac Fish and wildlife Area

Deep River (Lake)
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve (Lake)
Oak Ridge Prairie (Lake)

Brunswick Center South (Gary)
Grand Calumet Lagoons (Gary)
Marquette Park (Gary)
Migrant Trap (Hammond)
Wolf Lake (Hammond)

Clark and Pine Dune and Swale
Clark and Pine General refractory
Clark Junction (USX)
Clark Junction East (USX)
Cline Avenue Dune and Swale
     (conservation easement between
     DNR and South Shore RR)
Coulter Sand Prairie (Shirley Heinze)
DuPont Natural Area (DuPont)
Explorer Pipeline
Gary Enterprise Zone (USX)
Gary Works (USX)
Grand Calumet Tern Site
Ivanhoe Dune and Swale (TNC)
Ivanhoe South (Shirley Heinze)
Lake George and Woods
     (Calumet College of St. Joseph)
Lakeshore Prairie (EJ&E RR and Conrail)
Penn Central
Roxanna Marsh
Tolleston Ridges (Conrail)

Appendix B–Northwest Indiana Agencies, Organizations, Universities and Corporations  back to top

The following agencies, organizations, universities and corporations have roles in the protection and restoration of Northwest Indiana ecosystems.

  • Dunes-Calumet Audubon
  • DuPont Corporation
  • Friends of Gibson Woods
  • Friends of Indiana Dunes
  • Gary Parks Department
  • Grand Calumet Task Force
  • Hammond Parks Department
  • Hoosier Environmental Council
  • Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
  • Indiana Department of Environmental Management
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources
  • Indiana Division of Nature Preserves
  • Indiana University
  • Isaak Walton League
  • Lake County Parks
  • Lake Michigan Federation
  • LaPorte County Parks
  • Midwest Steel
  • National Park Service
  • Northwest Indiana Public Service Company
  • Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission
  • Potowatomi Audubon
  • Purdue University
  • Save the Dunes Council and Fund
  • Shirley Heinze Environmental Fund
  • Sierra Club
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–Great Lakes National Program Office
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–Region 5
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Geological Service


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