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Restoring Habitats: Cedar Swamp Prairie

Historically, the 1,100-acre State-owned property known as Cedar Swamp Wetland Conservation Area (WCA) was the hunting grounds of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi People. A dispersal summer camp of one of the clans existed nearby at what is now Fremont, IN (formerly known as Willow Prairie). The landscape of the immediate area included prairie, wetlands of various types, oak savanna, and oak woodland, and mixed deciduous forest.

According to historic anecdotal reports by early settlers:

“The land was much of it oak openings, the trees were some distance apart and the fire ran through them every year and kept down the young trees so that one could see a long ways…”

When Indiana acquired the land in 1992, the 640-acre wetland complex had been drained and the surrounding uplands were in agricultural production. Under the care of Pigeon River Fish & Wildlife Area, the property opened for public hunting. Water was returned to the marsh and the uplands were divided into small management units. Of the 443 acres of upland, about 386 acres were planted in alternating strips of prairie and annual food plots. Over time, invasive non-native brush and trees compromised the integrity of the prairie fields.

In 2022, property manager Savanna Vaughn saw the opportunity to change the paradigm at Cedar Swamp WCA from “farming for wildlife” to “restoration of native landscapes for wildlife.” A partnership was forged and funds were raised to renovate the existing prairie plantings and to convert agricultural fields to prairie, thereby creating one 357-acre prairie.

The partners include Pigeon River FWA (Div. of Fish & Wildlife), Blue Heron Ministries, Indiana Natural Resource Foundation, and National Turkey Federation. The US Fish & Wildlife Service was instrumental in gathering the funding partners on this project.

Partners will highlight the area’s historic prairie-oak continuum ecosystem by protecting the small remnant patches of native prairie and oak savanna, removing invasive brush and unwanted trees from fencerows and existing prairie plantings, and planting old fields with floristically-diverse, location-specific prairie seed mixes.

Work began in late summer. Pigeon River and Blue Heron Ministries crew prepared 110 acres of fallow fields. Blue Heron Ministries conducted fall prescribed fires on 202 acres of remnant and planted prairie.

Work began on the restoration project in late summer. Pigeon River staff and Blue Heron Ministries crew mowed and applied herbicide on 110 acres of fallow fields. Blue Heron Ministries conducted fall prescribed fires on 202 acres of remnant and planted prairie and began work applying herbicide to control invasive brush.

When completed, this exciting project will serve as a model for natural area restoration and management in Indiana. And with the planned and reclaimed use of fire on the land, Cedar Swamp WCA will once again thrive for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of people. Cedar Swamp Prairie is Coming Alive!

This story was originally published in the State of the Lands 2023. Read the entire issue digitally here.