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CONSERVATION

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C O N S E R V A T I O N

C O N S E R V A T I O N

The purpose of expanding the Conservation element of the Greenways

+ Blueways 2020 Plan is to establish an outline for the creation of a regional network of conservation corridors and buffers throughout Northwest Indiana. This chapter will explore the benefits of this network, compile priorities from other plans and partners, and provide

strategies for implementation within the regional transportation planning context and through other efforts.


RELATIONSHIP TO PREVIOUS PLANS

In the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, NIRPC mapped a Green Infrastructure Network, a more refined subset of the 2007 Greenways and Blueways Plan. In the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan 2015

Update Companion, NIRPC adopted the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision which served as a visual representation of the Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Recovery Plan (see Figure I-1). The Greenways +Blueways 2020 Plan proposes to embrace conservation as


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an aspect of greenway planning on par with transportation and recreation. The identification of important places for corridors, which integrate all three purposes, is a practical first step toward implementing the Green Infrastructure Network envisioned in the 2020 CRP.


The Greenways + Blueways 2020 Plan identifies existing habitat within the green infrastructure vision landscape that could connect the scattered and fragmented pockets of our preserved and managed ecological heritage. These bands also reflect locations where transportation infrastructure should minimize further habitat fragmentation or stream blockages and provide for safe wildlife

or aquatic passage. NIRPC’s hope is to encourage communities, stakeholders and private landholders to preserve and manage corridors for conservation within these bands.

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Figure I-1 NIRPC’s Green Infrastructure Vision

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C O N S E R V A T I O N

C O N S E R V A T I O N

CURRENT NORTHWEST INDIANA LANDSCAPE

To help evaluate the approximate distribution of natural habitats across the region, NIRPC used the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) regional land cover dataset and Habitat Priority Planner spatial distribution support tool. NOAA considers the Coastal Change Analysis Program (CCAP) land cover classes to be important indicators of ecosystem health that can be


accurately and consistently portrayed through remote sensing technology such as satellite imagery. NIRPC simplified this data by reducing the number of classes within the Habitat Priority Planner. Land cover was either grouped simply as human (non-habitat) or natural (habitat), or in a logical higher level scheme. For example, cultivated crops and pasture/ hay were grouped as agricultural land.


BIODIVERSITY

Northwest Indiana is fortunate to have rich natural resources, with an especially abundant and unique diversity of plant species. The varied topology of the active sand dunes along the Indiana Dunes led the region to becoming the birthplace of the study of ecology in the early 1900s. Similar to Indiana’s place

as the Crossroads of America, Northwest Indiana is at the crossroads of several major ecoregions such as central forest-


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grassland transition, tall grass prairie, and eastern temperate broadleaf and mixed forest. Within the region, there are over 315 areas containing over 36,000 acres of lands managed for some natural resource or recreational purpose. These managed lands encompass 3.7% of NIRPC’s three county region. Except for the core expanse of the Indiana Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore, these managed lands are scattered across

the region. Large tracts of valuable ecological habitat remain in private, and often highly fragmented, ownership.


The following outlines the various types of biodiversity which is prevalent throughout the Northwest Indiana region.

LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY 101

The following terminology and concepts were used by NIRPC throughout this chapter to help describe the spatial relationship of different landscape elements throughout North- west Indiana. The same terminology is frequently used by landscape ecologist and is por- trayed in Figure I-2.


Patch: A relatively simple and similar, non-linear area that differs from its surroundings in structure and function. A patch in the context of this document is used to describe areas of natural habitat since human land uses and cover generally dominate the landscape of our region.


Corridor or Buffer: A linear patch, typically having certain enhanced functions, which link other patches in the matrix. Corridors connect two patches. Buffers protect one patch from the neighboring incompatible activities in the matrix.


Land Cover: the physical material at the surface of the earth such as grass, asphalt, buildings, trees, bare ground, crops, water. This is typically captured with satellite im- agery. For this plan we have grouped land cover types into Human(non-habitat) and Natural(habitat).


Matrix: The dissimilar background in which patches exists. For our purposes a matrix is used to describe areas of human related land cover such as housing, businesses, or agriculture.


Mosaic: A collection of patches, none of which are dominant enough to be interconnect- ed through the landscape.


Fragmentation: Occurs when large habitat patches are broken up into smaller, isolated patches. This often results in a decline in variety of species (species richness) and numbers of individual plants and animals (population density). This in turn leads to significant altera- tions to community composition, species interactions and ecosystem functions.


Figure I-2 Basic terminology used to define spatial structure in landscape

ecology


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Human Land Cover Types (Non-Habitat)

mostly managed grasses or low-lying

vegetation planted in developed areas for recreation, erosion control or aesthetic purposes. These might could include parks, large expanses of lawn, or cemeteries.


Natural Land Cover Types (Habitat)



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