5 plants and animals DNR is working to restore

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Indiana is home to a variety of plants and animals that enhance the state’s biodiversity. But due to changes in habitats and the spread of disease, some of these species are at risk or extirpated.

the Indiana Department of Natural Resources works through its Nongame Wildlife Fund to help monitor and restore endangered species and those of special concern.

The department has had some success with bald eagles and osprey, but also faces difficult goals while trying to restore populations of other species.

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Here is a brief list of a few notable species that have been added or removed from the state’s endangered species list.

Indiana Bat

The Indiana fruit bat is one of the oldest endangered species in the state and was also one of the first species in the country to become endangered.

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The bat was first introduced to the federal endangered species list in March 1967 alongside the American alligator, bald eagle and grizzly bear. It was the first time that the Ministry of the Interior compiled a list of endangered species.

The endangered Indiana bat resides in Hendricks County Park.

The species hibernates in large colonies in a few caves in the state, making them exceptionally vulnerable. Human disturbance, pesticides, and clear-cutting of forests have also put the Indiana bat at risk.

Osprey

These birds of prey are a hit in Indiana.

Between 1990 and 2000, just after DNR biologists reintroduced the Osprey to the state, only one nest was seen each year. In 2005, the birds managed to build five nests. Researchers identified 35 nests in 2010 and that almost doubled in 2015 when the birds had built 69 nests.

Indiana photographer Marilyn Culler captured this image of an osprey in Putnam County.

The department most recently reported in 2020 that 126 osprey nests were active in the state.

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Osprey’s eventual return has led MNR to remove it from its endangered species list, which is no easy task. Usually, there are no easy goals to achieve, such as nest counts, when trying to restore populations.

For the first time in over 30 years, a red knot has been recorded at Eagle Creek Park.  This bird migrates 9,000 miles annually from Argentina to the Arctic.

red bow

Red Knot Populations declined in 1800s as many were shot during migration, according to the National Audubon Society. Then, the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs along the Atlantic coast depleted an important food source for the bird. Spotted in Indiana for the first time in more than 30 years, the red knot made an appearance at Eagle Creek Park in the fall of 2019.

“Red knots migrate in the fall and show up around the dunes for a short time,” said Scott Johnson, wildlife science supervisor at DNR.

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Nesting in far northern Canada and Alaska, some knots winter along the southern border of the United States, usually along the Gulf of Mexico, but most birds continue to South America.

Freshwater mussels

The DNR recently removed six species of freshwater mussels from the state’s endangered and special concern lists, but not because they rebounded like the osprey. In this case, the mussels were removed from the list because they were no longer found in Indiana.

The process of delisting a species across the state, called extirpation, means that species are locally extinct but could be found elsewhere outside of Indiana.

Mussels are important to freshwater ecosystems because they are able to filter running water and reduce sediment. These abilities provide healthy habitats for other species and keep rivers and running waters clean and safe for humans.

Freshwater mussels are among the most endangered group of animals in Indiana, if not the Midwest, Johnson said. In Marion County alone, four species of mussels have disappeared and 19 others remain listed.

Species are also in decline across the county, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services delisting about 23 species due to extinction.

Sedge

Much of the attention to endangered species focuses on the fauna found in nature, but flora is just as important to healthy ecosystems.

As Indiana’s wetlands face development and degradation, sedges are increasingly under threat. The state’s fen wetlands, or those fed by groundwater, support diverse sedge populations. They are herbaceous plants known to favor moist habitats and are good indicator species of the health of the area.

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Dozens upon dozens of sedges are endangered, threatened, or extirpated from Indiana, which means that a native food source for wildlife is reduced. Also, as more sedge species are listed or become extinct, the vital habitat for a diverse ecosystem declines.

Karl Schneider is an IndyStar environmental journalist. You can reach him at karl.schneider@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter @karlstartswithk

The IndyStar Environmental Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the non-profit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.

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