Cooperative Land Management in Historic Cowles Dune Success Story

Photo of Dr Cowles
Photo of Dr Cowles
Park: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Success Story: Cooperative Land Management in Historic Cowles Dune
Category: Maintain and Restore Resilient Landscapes

The Cowles Dune unit of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful, untouched part of the park located along Lake Michigan between the Town of Dune Acres and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) Bailly Power Generating Station.

Beginning in the late 1800s, Dr. Harry Chandler Cowles from the University of Chicago began his groundbreaking research into ecology in the area now named after him. Known as the “Father of Plant Ecology”, Cowles and others were able to begin making the case for an “Indiana Sand Dunes National Park” based on the diverse ecosystems found in the dunes area along the lake. By 1966, when the park was founded, the area surrounding Cowles Dune had already been developed with a steel mill, coal fired power plant, an international shipping port, and growing communities. Fortunately, about a thousand acres remained untouched and became part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Fire crews prepare control lines for 2017 Cowles Dune RX
Fire crews prepare control lines for 2017 Cowles Dune RX
Beginning in 1986, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore began the use of prescribed fire as a tool to help maintain the ecosystems of the national lakeshore. Since then, the Cowles Dune and Cowles Bog wetlands area have had six separate prescribed fires conducted on them. The most recent of these covered almost the entire Cowles Dune and Wetland complex at over 800 acres worth of prescribed fire.

The most recent prescribed fire in the Cowles Dune area was unique in that the National Park Service (NPS) joined with the Town of Dune Acres, and NIPSCO to use fire as a tool on both public and private property. The NPS objectives for burning Cowles Dune included: increasing ecological diversity of plant and wildlife habitat, while at the same time reducing the threat of wildfire to the Town of Dune Acres. With this in mind, the NPS fire staff burned Town of Dune Acres property adjacent to NPS property in order to create better fire breaks along Town of Dune Acres property lines to lessen the fuel load and prevent future wildfires.

The NPS and NIPSCO are partnering throughout the national lakeshore to improve wildlife habitat, while protecting critical electrical infrastructure from wildfires. As a corporate entity, NIPSCO is a major landowner in and around the national lakeshore. Their transmission lines run through the national lakeshore in multiple areas. The relationship that was built while working together on the Cowles Dune Prescribed fire have paid dividends on other projects in and around the area and is already benefiting both organizations.
Photo of smoke drifting over fire area
Photo of smoke drifting over fire area
Map of Cowles Dune 834 Acre Burn Area
Map of Cowles Dune 834 Acre Burn Area

Map created by Micah Bell

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