Welcoming Cranes Back to Cowles Bog

ABOVE: a sandhill crane. Photo via Wikipedia.

SCA member Jessica West is helping to restore a critical wetland habitat

Try to imagine a place where all of the plants look exactly the same; where there was once a beautiful, unique environment that was thriving with a multitude of diverse plant species. An environment that has undergone this change is the Cowles Bog at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. What was once considered a living laboratory is now completely overgrown by a species of invasive cattail. My teammates and I on the Indiana Dunes Wetland Restoration Corps are committed to the removal of these invasive cattails, as well as raising native plants in on-site greenhouses, in order to ultimately restore the bog to its original state.

A caterpillar at Cowles Bog.

A day in the life of a wetland restoration corps member usually starts out with pulling on our hip waders, strapping on some snowshoes, and heading out into the bog. Cowles Bog is unlike any environment that I have ever experienced, especially the areas that have already been restored. The constant chirping of birds and croaking of frogs can be heard throughout the entire day. The best part for me has been seeing wildlife that I have never encountered anywhere else, such as the Sandhill Crane. According to park staff, the Sandhill Crane disappeared after the invasive cattails took over, only to return when parts of the bog began to be restored. My sincere hope is that the more areas we are able to restore during our time at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the more Sandhill Cranes will return.

Jessica’s teammates at work at Cowles Bog.

I can already see the impact that being a member of the Student Conservation Association has had on my view of conservation and my life as a whole. Before this experience, my definition of conservation was extremely generalized. Now it has both focused and broadened to include the restoration of environments that have been taken over by invasive species. Many people do not realize the remarkable impact that removing invasive species and planting native species can have on an ecosystem. The restoration of Cowles Bog will be a lengthy process, but since I have been involved I have seen tiny changes with each step, and know that what I am doing is worthwhile.

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