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Park Service: Cowles Bog tree-cutting project to have 'no signficant environmental impact', to begin immediately

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The National Park Service (NPS) has found that a reduction in the tree cover at Cowles Bog at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore would have no significant environmental impact.

On Monday, NPS announced that an environmental assessment of the “Restoration of Cowles Bog Wetland Complex’s Lake Plan Wet-Mesic Prairie for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore” has determined that the preferred alternative—Alternative 2, to be exact—would have “No Significant Impact.”

According to NPS, “The purpose of the proposed action is to restore approximately 25 acres of (the Cowles Bog Wetland Complex) to its former lake plain wet-mesic prairie conditions and provide waterfowl habitat in an adjacent open water body. A lake plain wet-mesic prairie is a species-rich, lowland prairie community that occurs on moist, level, seasonally inundated glacial lake plains of the Great Lakes. Seasonal flooding, cyclic changes in Great Lakes water levels, and fire historically maintained the species composition and community structure of lake plain wet-mesic prairies.”

The preferred alternative, Alternative 2, provides for a reduction in the tree cover and removal of understory vegetation, NPS has said, while the trees to remain would be chosen specifically based upon species and location. A number of trees would be maintained adjacent to Mineral Springs Road, including the “witness” trees from the 1830s land survey.

Alternative 2 is the preferred alternative, NPS has said, because it would be consistent with the project goals and would reduce the tree canopy to allow for the development of desired native prairie species, would be consistent with historical conditions, and would provide a visual buffer along Mineral Springs Road.

Concern: Tree Removal

NPS received a total of 74 responses, in its call for input from the public as part of its environmental assessment. NPS classified 39 of those comments as ones which “expressed concerns”; and 35 of them as being “supportive of the project.”

Tree removal was the first concern cited in comments, specifically, that NPS “should address the global concerns of removing over 3,000 trees.” Representative quotes include the following:

•“Trees provide great environmental benefits such as removing carbon dioxide from the air and slowing climate change.”

•The “plan to cut down over 3,000 trees is a violation of the duty to preserve our environment, and is out of step with current vital environmental objectives.”

•“We should be saving trees, not eliminating them, in our efforts to combat global warming and help sustain our environment.”

•“Usually the NPS is very aggressive in resisting cutting down, chipping up, and discarding trees, especially on this scale.”

In its response to these concerns, NPS noted that the proposed removal of trees represents restoration of only 3.5 to 4 percent of “critical grassland habitat that was present along the southern portion of the Great Marsh prior to European settlement.”

“Ecosystem services provided by trees are best realized in nature when trees are a component of a forest, an ecosystem comprised of multiple canopies with associated organisms,” NPS said. “These characteristics are absent at the project site.”

“Many organisms have evolved in environments lacking trees or with a scattering of trees,” NPS added. “These organisms cannot exist in an environment of dense trees such as exists in the project area. It is consistent with National Park Service policy for the National Lakeshore to protect, restore, and enhance ecosystem diversity and ecosystem processes within its boundaries.”

Concern: Flooding

Some also expressed concern that the restoration would lead to flooding:

•“I am concerned that you will end up draining that open body of water whether you intend to or not, and the result will be a flooded Mineral Springs Road.”

•“Mineral Springs Road will likely incur more frequent and severe flooding, as will the Dune Acres town park and the Calumet Bike Trail.”

•“I do feel the water table will rise significantly when trees are removed and it would change the bog’s environment. If significant flooding occurred and the integrity of the road was compromised, would the federal government pay for the needed road remediation?”

“Restoring wetland hydrology will be accomplished through removal of the ditch system, construction of a groundwater replenishment unit, and storage of water in the soil,” NPS said in response. “The normal water level in the open water body will not be lowered. Therefore, the amount of water available to the project site will be the same as currently experienced under various rain events. Following rain events, water will be detained within the project site and will then move slowly north through groundwater flow and limited surface flow.”

With respect to Mineral Springs Road and Dune Acres, NPS said this: “(R)estoration of wetland hydrology and establishment of the wetland plant assemblage . . . will reduce the amount of water flowing from the project site to the road culvert. Given that the road culvert has sufficient capacity to convey the current water flow under the road, reducing the amount of water reaching the culvert will not cause flooding of Mineral Springs Road” and “will not cause flooding in Dune Acres. Drainage of water from Dune Acres is not connected to drainage of water from the project site.”

Concern:

Quality of Life

Some expressed concern as well about the impact of the project on quality of life in Dune Acres:

•“The trees provide a buffer from noise and air pollution for the entire Town of Dune Acres.”

•“Since Cowles saw the bog, an enormous mill has been constructed and truck traffic has increased. Removal of the dense growth will result in sound pollution of the environment.”

•“We in Dune Acres, if all 3,481 trees are senselessly destroyed, will have the noise of road traffic along US. Route 12 and the South Shore Railroad greatly amplified as the 3,481 trees serve as a natural sound barrier.”

NPS responded in this way: “All existing and potential homes in Dune Acres are located outside of the zone of concern defined by The Noise Assessment Guideline of the Noise Control Act of 1972. Following wetland restoration at the project site, the only zone that will not exhibit sound absorption capability will be the approximate 150 feet of hardscape associated with the South Shore Railroad. There will remain an extensive zone of natural sound barriers comprised of various vegetation types which will include the restored project site comprised of softened ground, herbaceous vegetation, and scattered trees.”

More

NPS said on Monday that project work described in the environmental assessment “will begin immediately.”

All public comments and NPS’ responses can be found at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/indu

 

Posted 12/4/2012