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Verbatim: State to acquire 43,000 acres along Wabash River

Statement issued Thursday:

Terre Haute, Indiana – Governor Mitch Daniels today announced a major land conservation initiative that will position Indiana as a leader in wetlands and riparian protection. The new project, which includes two separate habitat areas, is the largest ever undertaken by the Department of Natural Resources. Daniels will announce the second part of the project, located in southeastern Indiana, on Friday.

The state will begin to acquire 43,000 acres located in the flood plain of the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in west central Indiana from willing sellers that will benefit wildlife, public recreation and the environment. The area, which follows 94 river miles along the Wabash River, stretches across four counties from Shades State Park to Fairbanks Landing Fish & Wildlife Area south of Terre Haute. The Wabash site is larger than the combined size of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Brown County State Park and will increase DNR-owned riparian wetland areas by more than 64 percent.

“Our goal is to make this a landmark era for conservation of natural beauty in our state and make Indiana a national leader in wetlands and wildlife protection,” the governor said. “Coupled with Goose Pond, our experts believe that the new 94-mile continuous Wabash River habitat will become one of the major Eastern U.S. waterfowl destinations and a tourist destination along with it.”

The state will use $21.5 million from the Lifetime License Trust Fund, a state trust fund dedicated to conservation purposes, and $10 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to begin the acquisitions. This investment will leverage millions of dollars in additional private and federal funding for both the protection and restoration of the corridor.

Governor Daniels’ plan will expand upon the 6,000 acre vision of the local Vigo County nonprofit, Wabash River Development and Beautification, Inc. Last year this group, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, local conservationists and the State began the Wabashiki State Fish and Wildlife area project. The Wabashiki vision for outdoor recreationists will now go northward up the Wabash to Sugar Creek and up Sugar Creek to Shades State Park. From Terre Haute this project goes south to Fairbanks Landing.

The Nature Conservancy’s state director, Mary McConnell, also spoke today at The Landing, praising Governor Daniels for his announcement. The Conservancy has long partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to focus wetland program dollars in the floodplains along the Wabash River. To date the NRCS, through its Wetland Reserve Program, has protected 34,000 acres along the Lower Wabash in Indiana and Illinois.

The State’s investment in the Wabash River watershed could potentially be matched with federal Pittman- Robertson money (3:1 match). These matching funds would increase dramatically the State’s investment for land acquisition and restoration in the Wabash River watershed. Complimented with The Nature Conservancy’s recent Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program with NRCS and potential future new USDA projects such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program along with 2-stage ditch work, additional floodplain restorations and investments through the USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Initiative and North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants, this project will become a model of real, on-the-ground action by partners at all levels leading to measurable results that could be duplicated in comparable watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin.

“The Wabash River and Sugar Creek corridors have long been conservation priorities for The Nature Conservancy,” said Mary McConnell, state director for The Nature Conservancy. “Governor Daniels’ announcement to direct significant resources to create a new linear State Fish & Wildlife Area to protect and restore these corridors and provide recreational opportunities for Hoosiers is not only visionary, but is perhaps the most significant investment in conservation in Indiana in a generation.” McConnell also stressed that partnership is and will continue to be key. This vision will require the support of hunters and fishermen, local residents and conservation organizations and state and federal agencies to focus attention and resources to restore and protect Indiana’s river, the Wabash.

In 2007, funded primarily from a grant from the Alcoa Foundation, the Indiana Chapter undertook a comprehensive biological assessment of the Wabash River to look at all aspects of the river in preparation for the launch of a major new project.

“The Wabash River is not only essential to the well-being of Indiana’s families and communities, it is also supports an amazing and diverse array of wildlife species,” said Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, which is working with the state and other partners to restore and protect the Wabash River. “More than 700,000 Hoosiers live within 15 miles of this incredible river, and dozens of rare and threatened species rely on the Wabash for survival. This restoration project will help ensure the landscapes and communities that make Indiana great will thrive for generations to come, while also serving as a model for other river conservation projects across the country.”

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