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Indiana Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program Rallies Around Lake Wawasee

February 19, 2014

The sun sets on the waters of Lake Wawasee in Indiana. Photo courtesy of Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation.
The sun sets on the waters of Lake Wawasee in Indiana. Photo courtesy of Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation.

Together, we can accomplish far more than we can do on our own. For more than two decades, the conservation community in northeast Indiana has illustrated this point through their efforts to rally around Lake Wawasee. At more than 3,059 acres, Lake Wawasee is the largest natural lake, wholly contained within Indiana, and an important environmental keystone.

The lake was formed during the Wisconsin glacial period and has had a long history of use by Native Americans, early European settlers. The lake provides numerous opportunities for recreation, as well as habitat for fish and wildlife. The lake has a predominantly agricultural watershed of approximately 25,000 acres that drains northwest via Turkey Creek to the Elkhart River, on to the St. Joseph River, and ultimately drains to Lake Michigan. Just like most other natural lakes in Indiana, Lake Wawasee has seen a decrease in water quality over the past 30 years. Fortunately, a highly energized committed group of individuals have come together to make a difference.

The non-profit Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation was organized in 1991 by concerned citizens to identify concerns and threats, and to proactively promote the protection of water quality in Lake Wawasee. Education, land protection and acquisition, and watershed improvement projects are the three primary objectives for the foundation. Since it’s inception, the foundation has acquired through donation, fee simple purchase, conservation easement or deed restriction 44 wetland and upland properties totaling more than 777 acres. Many of these properties contain significant wetland habitat that protects water quality and provides habitat for migratory birds and several Indiana state endangered and threatened species including: Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Blanding’s turtle, American river otter, marsh wren, and least bittern.

The properties collectively protect more than 10 miles of shoreline, providing benefits such as flood control, shoreline erosion protection and improved water quality, as well as fish and wildlife habitat. Since 1991, the foundation has spent more than $1 million on land acquisition, habitat restoration and best management practices, as well as educating the general public about the importance of water quality and sound stewardship of our natural resources.

Since 2010, the Indiana Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has worked cooperatively with the foundation to help restore habitat and educate the local community on the importance of our aquatic resources. To date, we have completed two wetland restorations, totaling approximately 11 acres, three acres of native prairie habitat restoration, and approximately 2,000 lineal feet of stream restoration. This partnership has also involved the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake and River Enhancement Program, as well as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife, Kosciusko Community Foundation, and many private individual donors. Matching funds to complete these projects have totaled more than $107,000 and plans are currently being made to restore approximately 10 more acres of wetlands in the summer of 2014.

Partnerships like these are vital to restoring and protecting our natural resources. With ever increasing demands on our resources and social demands for our tax dollars, protecting our aquatic resources will become even more difficult. Fortunately for Lake Wawasee, the partners have already started the process of helping to improve water quality, educating the public, and providing long-term protection of sensitive areas for future generations to appreciate.

For more information about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, visit: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/partners/

To learn more about the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, visit: http://wacf.com

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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Last updated: February 19, 2014