Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

Oak Savannah Habitat Restoration: An Inside Look

Along the southern shores of Lake Michigan at the interface between hardwood forests and vast open prairie was once a unique habitat to this region:  the oak savanna. Oak savannas were areas along the sandy shores and inland areas around the Southern Great Lakes where large oaks grew in open sun surrounded by prairie grasses and flowers.  Fringed Gentians (Gentiana crinita) and various orchids (Orchidaceae) dot the fields of Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii) and densely growing sedges, creating a mosaic of colors.  Today, much of this former habitat has been developed for agriculture, industry, and urban development (Photo A).

Photo A: Chicago at once period in time was dominated by the Oak Savanna ecosystem.

Where I am working in Northwest Indiana, many of the wetlands, sand dunes, and savannas have been converted into toxic waste disposal sites, row housing, shopping malls,  and freeways, or they have been degraded from pollution and habitat destruction.  Nevertheless, The Nature Conservancy has been tirelessly working to protect and restore oak savannas in this region (see map).

A satellite photo gives a more visual perespective on how much land has been abused in this region (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Landscape of Gary, Indiana and vicinity. The grey parched areas are industrial land and developed areas. The green areas are vegeated areas, but little remains of the once vast oak savanna dunes and wetlands.

Yet, in thanks in part to The Nature Conservancy, small but important areas are being restored to at or near their original condition.  The following photos will illustrate:


Photo B: The Ivanhoe Nature reserve is nestled behind a low-income residential neighborhood. Many of the houses are either dilapidated or boarded up.


Photo C
Photo D: Field crews removing excess brush to restore the oak savanna prairie.
Photo E: In the summer, this restored oak-savanna prairie will be vibrant with colors.

And finnally, here is a video of the restoration process in action:


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