Partnering to protect plant species

If nearly two dozen people needed a good day to plant wetland vegetation, they couldn't have picked a better day.

Tuesday’s rainfall, combined with the natural wetness of bogs, provided the ideal setting for a partnership of environmentalists and industry leaders.

Participants worked over a quarter-mile area of Indiana Dunes National Park’s Great Marsh sites to enhance plant diversity. 

“We’re trying to re-establish the community of plants prior to the development of industry,” said Dan Mason, a botanist with the National Park Service. “To quote President Lyndon Johnson, we want to ‘restore and present the world as God made it.’”
Representatives from Save the Dunes, NIPSCO, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s South Shore Line, National Park Service, and National Parks Conservation Association returned some native and endangered plants along the Dunes’ Calumet Trail in Cowles Bog.
“This partnership is special,” said Natalie Johnson, executive director of Save the Dunes, “because we’re coming together to preserve the biodiversity of the ecology. This really shows what we can do through this partnership.”
This planting comes as the South Shore Line is working to expand its existing single track between Gary and Michigan City to a double-track system. Along that same corridor, NIPSCO is performing maintenance and improvements to existing gas and electric facilities.

The joint planting effort would protect plant species potentially impacted by construction activities and support the National Park Service’s ongoing efforts to restore the Great Marsh, said Cathy Martin, program manager for Save the Dunes.

“We have worked hard to minimize impacts to environmental resources along this corridor,” said Nicole Barker, project manager for South Shore Line’s double-track project.

Barker explained this work is part of South Shore Line’s mitigation commitments under the National Environmental Policy Act. Expansion of the rail line is expected to begin in 2010, said Barker, with completion targeted for 2023.

NIPSCO, which owns 240 acres between the Michigan City and now-retired Bailly power plants, has also been working with conservation partners to enhance the quality of the wetlands and wildlife habitat on the adjacent Calumet Trail rights of way, said Steven Barker, who manages environmental permitting for the utility company.

Planted were state-listed sedges, including white edge sedge, swamp milkweed and blue joint grass, all wetland plants. Prior to the work, the planting area was sprayed to remove invasive plant life, such as cattails.

Colin Deverell, Midwest project manager with the National Parks Conservation Association, said his group is “working very purposefully in this partnership,” citing the need for removal of invasive plant species.

Several state rare plant species were chosen for rescue, Martin explained. Seeds were collected and grown in greenhouses prior to planting in restoration areas.

Gia Wagner, a natural resource chief with the National Park Service, said seeds came from the bog, ensuring their compatibility with the area for planting.

The swamp milkweed is particularly good for attracting monarch butterflies and other pollinators, including native bees, according to Victoria Wittig of Save the Dunes. This plant life will also benefit area animal life, such as wild turkeys and spotted turtles.

“Cowles Bog is one of the most biodiverse areas in the country,” Wittig noted.

Johnson praised the partnership, noting, “We can have both. We can have progress and biodiversity without compromising the integrity, splendor, and significance of the environment.

“South Shore’s double-track project is being done in an environmentally sensitive way. This is truly incredible.”