Updated: March 4, 2013 6:18AM
Restoration is often tricky. It takes a long time and very specialized knowledge to re-establish wetlands the likes of Cowles Bog at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
And, because it has taken many years and the impact of many people to knock the balance of that wetland off kilter, it will take the healthy collaboration of many to restore.
Recently, Cowles Bog has been in the news because a few people who live near the national park are very upset that the National Park Service is removing trees in the restoration efforts. But removing trees, cattails and other plants that have taken hold where they shouldn’t is necessary in order to restore the harmony of plant and wildlife at the world-renowned Cowles Bog or at any complex wetland. And, the National Park Service is taking the right approach.
Today, Cowles Bog is comprised of 205 acres, but, many years ago, the bog was part of a vast wetland called the Great Marsh that extended from Michigan City to the western edge of what is now the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
This wetland, and Cowles Bog in particular, gained notoriety for its unique and vast inventory of plants and wildlife. Scientists, researchers and students from around the world came to Cowles Bog to observe and study the unusual wetland and rare plants and animals.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much of the Great Marsh was drained to build homes, roads, industry and agricultural fields. This development changed the nature of what was growing in Cowles Bog. It allowed for trees, cattails and other plants to “invade,” crowding out the native plant community that had thrived there for thousands of years, supporting birds, mammals and other wildlife.
Fire to control tree and shrub growth, a major component of current wetlands management, was not in play until recent decades. And budget and staff reductions at the national park have affected consistent management of Cowles Bog.
Since fire has been absent for a long time at Cowles Bog, shrubs and trees are causing deep shade that pushes out the natural communities. This has changed the wetland greatly, reducing habitat for water birds and animals that depend on healthy wetlands to survive.
It is the mandate and responsibility of the National Park Service to restore these areas and protect some of the very features for which the national park was created.
In nearly a year, Park Service staffers listened to public input on the Cowles Bog Restoration Plan. They conducted two public meetings and a special meeting and site visit for Dune Acres residents. Two of these meetings were required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and two were sessions that the Park Service offered to boost local understanding of the project. The plan draft was available online, and written comments were accepted by mail and electronically.
The Cowles Bog Restoration Project is important because it will breathe new life back into these globally-significant wetlands.
By restoring Cowles Bog, the National Park Service, working with many partners, will provide a rest stop for migratory birds near Lake Michigan’s southern tip, protect rare species of plants, improve Lake Michigan water quality by reducing and controlling runoff, and create new educational opportunities for students, nearby residents and visitors to this great national park. It means taking down some trees in the process, but the return will be an irreplaceable natural resource legacy for many generations of park visitors to come.
Midwest Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association
Save the Dunes
Laurel M. Ross,
Urban Conservation Director for Environment,
Culture and Conservation,
The Field Museum