State To Establish 25,000 Acre Conservancy Along Muscatatuck

Governor Mitch Daniels gestures to an area representing 25,600 acres on a map where a nature conservancy is hoped to be established. “We will be buying land from willing sellers,” said Daniels. At right is John Goss, executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation and former DNR Director under the O’Bannon and Kernan administrations.

A land conservation project targeting more than 25,600 acres along the Muscatatuck River known as Muscatatuck Bottoms in Scott, Jackson and Washington counties was announced last Friday by state officials.
The area includes portions of Vernon Township south and southwest of Crothersville.
“We’re out to create something of lasting and large importance for our state and protect its natural beauty. With these projects, we aim to make Indiana a destination point for waterfowl, a destination point for tourists, and to become a national leader in wetlands and wildlife protection,” said Governor Mitch Daniels.
Muscatatuck Bottoms contains the largest least-fragmented complex of bottomland forest remaining in Indiana. The forest is characterized by several species of oak, hickory and sweet gum.
“Muscatatuck Bottoms is a conservation priority for The Nature Conservancy, and we have already invested significant resources in this area,” said Mary McConnell, state director for The Nature Conservancy. “it is an impressive bottomland flatwoods complex with a number of significant restored and restorable wetlands. When all assembled, this property will connect two divergent sections of Jackson Washington State Forest and create one of the state’s largest complexes of both upland and lowland forest, attracting abundant waterfowl and migratory songbirds. This project, combined with yesterday’s Wabash River announcement, represents the most significant investment in conservation in Indiana in a generation. The Nature Conservancy is proud to be a partner in this visionary undertaking, protecting two great conservation areas for Hoosiers to enjoy.”
The site provides habitat for a number of species of conservation concern, including such birds as the least bittern, yellow-crowned night heron, red-shouldered hawk and Cerulean warbler. Two state-endangered reptiles, the Kirtland’s snake and copperbelly watersnake, also are found there, as is featherfoil, a state-endangered plant.
The state will use $21.5 million from the Lifetime License Trust Fund, a state trust fund dedicated to conservation purposes and $10 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to begin the acquisitions from willing sellers. This investment will leverage millions of dollars in additional private and federal funding for both the protection and restoration of the corridor.
Additional support will come from The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group based in Memphis, Tenn.
The key objectives at Muscatatuck Bottoms are to:
•design an effective model for sustainability of natural resources by connecting fragmented parcels of public land * restore and enhance riparian corridors
•protect essential habitat for threatened and endangered species
•open public access for recreational opportunities
•preserve significant rest areas for migratory birds, especially waterfowl
•create a regionally significant conservation destination
•provide additional flood relief to current riparian landowners
“To have a second major land conservation initiative like Muscatatuck Bottoms launched on the heels of yesterday’s announcement about the Wabash River project makes about as strong a statement on conserving Indiana’s natural resources as anyone could imagine. This is significant,” said DNR Commissioner Rob Carter.