By Carolyn McNagy, ACRES Land Trust
Only three rivers in Indiana are designated as having Natural, Scenic, and Recreational River status. One of these three, Cedar Creek, winds through DeKalb and Allen Counties in northeast Indiana. With gravel banks edged by bright yellow swamp buttercups, bluffs of blue phlox and trillium, and pools for wood ducks – Cedar Creek Canyon of Allen County is one of the few un-dredged river segments left in Indiana.
The majority of the streams and rivers in Indiana have been turned into ditches with straight, bare, and muddy banks. A few red maples or cottonwood trees may gain a foothold on the banks of these rivers, but only until they are removed by the next order of the drainage board. The Indiana Drainage Code allows the stripping of bank vegetation back 75 feet on either side from the top of the bank, de-brushing with herbicide, and dredging of the stream bed.
Cedar Creek, to this point has not suffered the same fate. Sycamore, swamp white oak, cottonwood and maples, some massive in size, frame its banks. Unfortunately however, beauty and timelessness are fragile barricades. Only 13 miles of Cedar Creek are actually designated as having Natural, Scenic, and Recreational status. Willow Creek and Little Cedar Creek, tributaries of Cedar Creek, are not protected Willow Creek is a legal drain.
The dredging of Cedar Creek would not only destroy aquatic habitat and the ability of endangered plants and animals to retain their foothold along Cedar Creek, but would also be detrimental to the quality of the water flowing through the creek. These threats to the watershed affect people through the water they drink, the loss of beauty that once surrounded them, and the increase in noise and light pollution. Within the past twenty years there has been an explosion of growth in the countryside around the Cedar Creek watershed. Development has turned farm fields into subdivisions and runoff has turned the sparkling water flowing through the creek to a murky tan.
Driven by the threats facing Cedar Creek, ACRES Land Trust, one of four organizations committed to protecting land in Cedar Creek, started looking for new ways to strengthen protection of the corridor. ACRES was founded in 1960 and is dedicated to the preservation of natural areas in northeast Indiana through land acquisition, environmental education, and scientific study.
The riparian corridor of Cedar Creek, Little Cedar Creek, and Willow Creek was determined to be a potential nursery habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat, Myotis sodalis, in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluation. The size and species of trees in this area give a strong indication of Indiana bat habitat. The Indiana bat roosts in southern Indiana caves in the winter and then spreads out in the summer. The bats establish small maternity colonies, using huge hollow trees in older growth woods for nursery sites
ACRES decided that one of the best ways to protect Cedar Creek and its tributaries was to study the mussels, mammals, birds and plants that are dependent on the Cedar Creek ecosystem. Being able to establish the presence of the endangered Indiana bat in the old growth woods of the watershed, would greatly strengthen the capacity of environmental organizations to provide protection for the Cedar Creek Corridor from logging, development and the challenges of the drainage board. The presence of the Indiana bat would also make it possible to obtain federal funds for these efforts.
ACRES received funding to study the bat population of the Cedar Creek Corridor from both GLAHNF and the Indiana Power and Light Company (IPALCO). Dr. John O. Whitaker Jr., a nationally known mammologist and Professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University, agreed to study the bat population of the corridor in the hopes of documenting the presence of the Indiana bat.
Mist nets were assembled and monitored at eight different sites throughout the Cedar Creek watershed during the summers of 2000 and 2001. ACRES volunteers spent five nights sitting on sand bars holding eco-locators, swatting mosquitoes, and watching Dr. Whitaker wade into the brisk water to remove bats entangled in the nets.
Big Brown (Eptesicus fuscus), Little Brown (Myotis lucifugus) and Red (Lasiurus borealis) bats were netted, identified, weighed, and released. The Indiana bat, however was not found. The fact that the Indiana bat was not netted could mean that this area is too far north and out of their range or that we were just unsuccessful in finding them during this study. We consider this to be an ongoing project. If the Indiana bat does use this area as a nursery site, as indicated by the size and types of trees in the woods, the chance of documenting the bat would be greatly increased with continued mist netting. We are therefore looking for a graduate student to continue the search.
Although we were disappointed that we were unable to document the presence of the bat during the study, the project was a great success in educating the public on bats and the threats they face. Thousands of people read about the bat project in the ACRES quarterly newsletter and in northeast Indiana newspapers. More than 50 people came to help Dr. Whitaker set up and take down the mist nets, listen for the bats with echo locators, and watch the nettings. As people become more interested in the bats it is our hope that concern for their habitat will also increase.
In the past ACRES had not focused on the endangered or rare species located in northeast Indiana as a means of garnering additional protection for habitat. This project has changed our outlook for protecting land. We are now placing more of an emphasis on the ecosystems and species that will benefit from the preservation of habitat instead of what land is available. Knowing what will be lost if the watershed continues to degrade is the best weapon we have to protect Cedar Creek.