New state program will help northeast Indiana landowners restore grasslands, which will aid songbirds, gamebirds and pollinator insects

Tall grass filled the Little River Wetland Project's Arrowhead Prairie this fall on the west side of Fort Wayne. The new Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds program will provide funds to help landowners replant land in grassland or prairie. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Ring-necked pheasants are one of the gamebirds expected to benefit from the new Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds program, which will help landowners pay to plant land in prairie or grassland. (Courtesy of FreeImages.com)
Pollinator insects, such as bumblees, will benefit from Indiana's new Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds program, which will help landowners pay to plant land in prairie or grassland. (Courtesy of FreeImages.com)

A new program could help landowners replant some of Indiana’s rapidly disappearing grasslands, providing important habitat for songbirds, gamebirds and pollinator insects such as honeybees and butterflies.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program plans to contribute $1 million in funding for the Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds initiative.

That federal funding will be added to about $830,000 the DNR has raised through donations.

Populations of grassland-dependent bird species, such as northern bobwhite quail, Loggerhead shrikes and ring-necked pheasants, have been declining much faster than other types of birds because of loss of habitat, said Jason Wade, north region landscape biologist with the Indiana DNR.

The trend toward larger farming operations has transformed the rural landscape into larger fields with fewer fencerows, eliminating areas where songbirds and game birds live, Wade said.

Loss of grassland habitat also has hurt pollinator insects. Pollinators also have experienced population loss from the use of herbicides and pesticides, he said.

Pollinator insects not only serve as food for birds and other species, Wade said, they perform the vital function of pollinating plants that provide food for people or feed for animals we eat as food.

“Almost any food we eat needs to be pollinated,” he added.

Before settlers arrived in the 1700s and early 1800s, northwest Indiana contained substantial areas of prairie, Chip Sutton, marketing manager at The Nature Conservancy’s Indiana office, said after consulting with John Shuey, the organization’s director of conservation science.

Some grasslands existed in northeast Indiana, typically on hilltops in the lake region, Shuey reported. Wetlands areas in the lakes region also provided habitat for grassland birds.

Now, most of Indiana’s original prairie land has been converted to farming use, Sutton said. The Nature Conservancy and other groups, such as the Little River Wetlands Project in Fort Wayne, have replanted some land in prairie plants.

“The Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds program sounds very exciting,” Sutton said. “I hope many, many landowners in the target counties take advantage of the available funding.”

The Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds program will provide technical and financial assistance to landowners who want to plant all or part of their property in grassland or prairie, Wade said.

The program will target key areas in five regions of the state, which are areas where DNR officials believe the program can have the greatest impact, Wade said.

In northeast Indiana, the target area includes DeKalb, Noble, Steuben and LaGrange counties.

Allen County wasn’t included in the target area, likely for a few reasons, Wade said:

• A majority of land in the county is urban, which includes residential and commercial uses.

• Local farmers’ past interest in many government agricultural programs has been low, possibly because farmers normally can make a good living on the flat, productive farmland in the Allen County.

• There aren’t many gamebirds, such as ring-necked pheasants, in Allen County.

Wade said the DNR still is finalizing details of the grasslands program.

That will include using some of the new funding to hire three new grassland biologists. They will sign up landowners for the program and work with them on installation and care of their new grasslands.

The DNR hopes to begin signing up landowners for the program by late fall or early winter in 2018, Wade said.

People are interested: Since the announcement about the NRCS funding for the program, Wade said he has received 20 to 25 calls from people asking about the grasslands program.

The DNR likely will be most interested in working with people who have at least 3 or 4 acres of land they want to put in grasslands, Wade said. The land currently can be in farm production, pasture or just left idle and mowed once or twice a year.

The DNR has other programs, Wade said, that can help people who have smaller parcels of land they want to convert to wildlife habitat.

“There are very few landowners in the state we can’t help,” he added, whether it be with technical expertise and possibly also financial assistance.

With the grasslands program and most other habitat restoration programs, the program will cover all or nearly all of an approved project’s cost, Wade said.

If a landowner has 30 to 40 acres he or she wants to restore and is willing to allow controlled public hunting on the property, the landowner probably can make money on the restoration by participating in the Access Program Providing Land Easements (APPLE) program, Wade said.

Regardless of what program a landowner chooses, restoring wildlife habitat likely will make land more valuable than it was previously, he said.

LEARN MORE

For more about the Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds program and other habitat restoration programs, contact Jason Wade, North Region landscape biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, at jwade@dnr.in.gov or call 1-260-468-2515.

More information also is available at http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/9467.htm.

HOW TO HELP

To donate to Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds (GGS) program:

• Go to the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation website at “http://www.in.gov/inrf” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>www.in.gov/inrf. Type GGS in the “In Honor/Memory of” box at the bottom of the form.

• Send a check payable to the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation to: Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds, 402 W. Washington St., W273, Indianapolis, IN 46204. Write GGS on the check’s memo line.

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