Chesterton Tribune

Guest Comentary: NPS plan for Cowles Bog tree removal legal and beneficial

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Guest Commentary

By Barbara E. Plampin, botanist

I am responding to fellow Dune Acres resident Richard Hawksworth’s 5/10/2012 Guest Commentary about removing trees from Cowles Bog.

Removing 3384 trees from Cowles Bog’s red maple swamp (RMS) is both legal and beneficial. Though Hawksworth corrrectly states that the 1996 law establishing the Lakeshore binds NPS to preserve the land permanently in its present state, subsequent legislation and the NPS management policies mandated by it supersede the earlier law. Section 19 of Public law 94-549 94th Congress October 18, 1976, which amends the 1966 law, obliges studying and reporting on “preservation and restoration of Cowles Bog and its associated wetlands.” Furthermore, to comply with President Carter’s 1977 Executive Order 11990 “Protection of Wetlands” (42 Fed. Reg.26961), NPS issued, in 2002, Procedural Manual #77-1 (reissued April, 2011). Its Policy Statement reads, “Where natural wetland characteristics or functions have been degraded or lost due to previous or ongoing human activities, the NPS will, to the best extent appropriate or applicable, restore them to pre-disturbance conditions.”

The RMS trees arose from human disturbance of a mosaic of wetland and prairie: the heavy drainage ditching of the 1880’s and after and from subsequent farming. (A 1915 photograph still shows an open marsh.) Beginnings of RMS first appear in a 1938 aerial photo. Subsequent aerials show the trees increasing.

After repeating, in 2011, the research and measurements of the April 13,1830, Government Land Survey Notes for the site, Dr. Noel B. Pavlovic, US Geological Survey, concludes that “Most of the land...was marsh and prairie and not red maple swamp. Ditching created the conditions favorable for the invasion of red maples after the property was abandoned.” He writes, “...much of the forest was not here in the 1830’s. This is corroborated by the 1938 aerial photograph.”

Only the SE corner was forested in 1830. NPS will keep the two witness trees, a buffer zone of trees W of Mineral Springs, and some other trees within the RMS to a total of 101 trees.

Granted that most RMS trees are native (black locust is not), the RMS is still a rather pitiful affair. Not all trees are mature; only 18.2 percent have a diameter at breast height of 16 inches or more. The crowded trees support few bird and native plant species. Does RMS resemble the Lakeshore’s bird and plant species rich Heron Rookery, a similar forest? Hikers can see the difference for themselves.

Now the benefits. Besides removing trees, NPS will plug ditches to restore the hydrology and plant 150 species of native sedges, grasses, and flowers. Visitors will see a vista of a largely open mosaic of prairie and marsh similar to those in Hoosier Prairie in Griffith, Indiana. The landscape will provide habitat for state listed and other native amphibiana, reptiles, and birds. Think vibrant pinks (Joe Pye weed), purples (ironweed), whites (turtle head, angelica), blue (blue lobelia), yellow (sunflowers), even oranges (Michigan or Turk’s cap lily), and MORE. This landscape will help make the Cowles Bog Wetland Complex worthy of its designation as a National Natural Landmark.

All trees, even natives, are not necessarily in the right place. We also need treeless spaces: wetlands, prairies, grasslands. Where would corn and other foods come from without them? Cleared of most trees, the restored mosaic of marsh and prairie will provide food for the spirit.



Posted 5/23/2012