Woodland Steward – President’s Letter 2015

Threatened and Endangered Species and Me

Quick, think of an endangered species. Did you instantly think of the Bald Eagle, the Spotted Owl, or the Rabbitsfoot mussel? Okay, maybe not the Rabbitsfoot mussel, but maybe something more exotic like the Black Rhino, Giant Panda or Loggerhead Turtle. When we think of endangered species, we tend to think about large charismatic animals.

There are more endangered species than many of us know about or want to admit and then there are some species that are extinct, lost forever. Animals that once graced our Hoosier state: the Carolina parakeet, Passenger pigeon, Eastern elk and Wabash riffleshell mussel are lost forever. Once a species is gone a part of our world is lost. This happens naturally, but also happens increasingly at the hands of people.

Endangered species are a big part of my professional life. I do forest conservation and management work for The Nature Conservancy aimed at protecting habitat for a group of neo-tropical songbirds that are not endangered, but are experiencing severe population declines due mainly to the actions of people. The Indiana Bat, a federally endangered species, is also found in the woodlands I manage. Trouble begins when habitat guidelines for the Indiana bat do not align with the ecological management of the forest or the habitat needs of some of the declining bird species. Many private landowners face the same problem. You may have goals for your woodland, but if an endangered species is found on or around your property, you may need to make changes to your management to consider the endangered species.

In my private life I get a break from endangered species. I can go hang out at a lake and enjoy some sun and fun… until last summer. Water levels in Lake Freeman started dropping rapidly around the 4th of July weekend. Full-time residents were concerned, part-time residents had no idea what was going on. I had my suspicions, because The Nature Conservancy has been working for well over a decade to protect endangered mussel species, improve water quality and promote conservation farming practices along the Tippecanoe River. But these activities, like tree planting, filter strips, 2-stage ditches and conservation easements had never impacted Lake Freeman.

As is turns out, there are 6 federally endangered freshwater mussels found in the Tippecanoe River, including the Rabbitsfoot mussel, mentioned above. Many of the endangered mussel species have declined by more than 50%. Of the 300 freshwater mussel species in North America, 38 have gone extinct in recent history (lost forever) and 77 others are critically imperiled. The Tippecanoe River supports one of the most significant and diverse freshwater mussel populations in the United States with 46 of the original 58 mussel species still found there

Lake Freeman and Lake Shaffer generate hydroelectric power. The dams alter the hydrology of the river, but generate the electricity we all need and use. The lakes create recreation opportunities and economic opportunity for many people. I grew up swimming, wakeboarding and playing in the lake. My kids love the lake. To protect the federally endangered mussels, the dams must release a certain amount of water per hour to maintain the downstream flow of the river. In drought years, this may lower the lake level and limit recreation and economic opportunities associated with the lake.

People are part of this world and have an impact on this world, but no other species on the planet can accept the responsibility or has the power to be a good steward of the Earth like we do. Freshwater mussels serve a purpose. Filtering over a gallon of water an hour, they purify rivers and streams. They are also an important part of the aquatic food chain. I do not want to cause the extinction of a mussel, or any other plant or animal. However, ensuring their survival will directly impact me and my family. Protecting mussels may limit my ability to wakeboard or get the full use out of our cottage, but extinction is forever. I am willing to give up some of my personal recreation to help keep a species from extinction. I am willing to alter the forest management I am doing for The Nature Conservancy to help the Indiana Bat. There are real costs to protecting endangered species and many of the costs are borne by private landowners. In some cases, protecting endangered species has put people out of business or disrupted entire industries. As landowners and private citizens, we can encourage the use of sound science and work to promote species recovery plans that balance the needs of people and endangered species. One way for private landowners to do this is to provide public comment on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listings and endangered species recovery plans.

Throughout this issue of the Woodland Steward, you will find information on some of Indiana’s endangered species, gain an understanding of how humans can help endangered species, and learn how non-native invasive plants and animals are impacting endangered species.

One way to stay informed about endangered species and their impacts to woodland owners is to read the Woodland Steward. In this issue we are asking you to show your support by making a donation to ensure that we can continue to produce and print this newsletter for 33,000 woodland owners in Indiana. Private landowner donations help pay for the cost of printing and mailing the newsletter. So please consider a donation. On behalf of the Woodland Steward Institute and our executive board, thank you for your support. We hope you enjoy and benefit from the Woodland Steward.

Dan Shaver, Woodland Steward President