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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Restoration of Cowles Bog Wetland Complex, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Region 3, August 1, 2013

In early 2012, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore released a draft environmental assessment discussing their proposal to restore approximately 25 acres along the south side of Cowles Bog to its natural state. For approximately 50 years, due to drainage for agriculture and then abandonment, the site has been a dense woodland. However, soil types and reports from the original land surveys in the 1830s indicate that the site was, and should be, a wet/mesic prairie. The FWS provided comments in support of the restoration plan in April 2012. However, a number of residents of the local community of Dunes Acres, which is north of the proposed restoration site, objected to the removal of the trees.
In September 2012, Indiana Dunes released a document responding to the comments that were submitted on the draft environmental assessment and a finding of no significant impact, which was signed in November 2012. Tree clearing began shortly after the finding was finalized. However, early in December 2012, several Dune Acres residents filed a lawsuit against Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the National Park Service under the National Environmental Policy Act to stop the tree cutting and the site restoration, claiming the environmental assessment did not adequately consider alternatives to the proposed action.

The FWS had advised Indiana Dunes that the proposed tree cutting was not likely to adversely affect the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) if the tree clearing occurred during winter months when the bat would not be present. We had no information to indicate that Indiana bats utilized the site because it was too dense to provide suitable summer nursery and roosting habitat, but requested the tree clearing time restrictions in order to be extra protective, in addition to being protective of migratory birds. The lakeshore and the Department of Justice attorneys therefore arranged for most of the tree clearing to continue, with the exception of a 50-foot wide buffer along Mineral Springs Road, the only access to Dune Acres. FWS project biologist Elizabeth McCloskey spoke with the Department of Justice attorney to confirm the clearing restriction request.

In May 2013, after the case had been presented to the judge and he was developing his decision, Indiana Dunes applied for a Section 404 wetland fill permit to fill the numerous abandoned former agricultural ditches on the site, which was necessary to restore wetland hydrology and allow the site to again become a wet/mesic prairie. The FWS’s Northern Indiana Suboffice provided comments in support of permit issuance on May 29, 2013.

On July 2, 2013, the Federal District Court judge ruled in favor of Indiana Dunes/National Park Service and against the plaintiffs. Shortly thereafter, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management  issued Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the restoration project and the Chicago District Corps of Engineers issued a Section 404 permit.  Indiana Dunes has since completed removing the majority of trees from the site, leaving a copse of old oaks within a small upland (which was also an old homestead site and therefore historically significant) and a scattering of other native trees in sites described as open wet savanna in the 1830s surveys. Ditch filling is also progressing as the site slowly returns to what Dr. Henry Chandler Cowles must have seen during his visits in 1913.

Contact Info: Larry Dean, 612-713-5312, Larry_Dean@fws.gov