Scattered between the hills, woodlands, lakes, small towns, and farm fields of Indiana are one of America’s most precious natural resources — wetlands. Before the 1980s, wetlands were seldom thought of as important, in fact most were thought of as useless. Thousands of acres of wetlands were drained or filled in for development and other uses, such as agriculture.
Restoring wetlands is one of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s priorities. Wetlands are important to the production of our food and fiber, they help manage flooding, filter pollutants, recharge underground aquifers, and they provide wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities. NRCS’s Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) pays landowners to enroll their marginal cropland into a conservation easement and we help them develop and carry out a restoration plan. Thanks to the WRP, Indiana now enjoys one of the nation’s largest restored wetlands — Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, located near Linton in western Greene County.
In 2005, a farmer in Greene County began the process of entering his over 7,000 acres of frequently flooded cropland into the WRP program. Over the next six years, NRCS and many federal, state, local and private partners worked together to restore this area to its original function — to act as a giant sponge absorbing, filtering and slowly releasing water as it makes its way across the land to our rivers and streams. Goose Pond has quickly become a national treasure and is viewed as a dramatic demonstration of the power of wetlands to not only manage water and draw and sustain wildlife, but to provide many other public benefits as well.
Wetlands the size and quality of Goose Pond are unusual. Because of its size it is a magnet for migratory and water birds of all sorts, and has changed international migration patterns. With over 260 different bird species spotted, including the rare roseate spoonbill and Asian hooded crane, the property has quickly become a regional destination for bird watching and waterfowl hunting. The Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area project was recently featured in an award-winning television documentary bringing even more attention to the importance of wetland restoration.
May, which just concluded on Thursday, was National Wetlands Month and we have much to celebrate here in Indiana. Hundreds of acres of WRP wetlands have been restored over the past nearly 27 years, but it is important to remember, the Goose Pond project started with a farmer who was willing to take the first step. Indiana’s farmers have a close relationship with their land and they are good stewards of our natural resources. As the month of May comes to a close, I want to recognize and thank the many Hoosier farm families who have improved our quality of life by restoring wetlands on their property.
To see photographs and learn more about the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, go to www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3094.htm.
Jane E. Hardisty is an Indiana state conservationist with the
Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.