Indiana will receive $1 million of the more than $40 million announced last week by USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie as a federal investment to restore forests, reduce wildfire threats, protect water supplies, improve wildlife habitat and support rural economies.

project map-thumb-250xauto-6112

This is the third year of the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet.

“The health of our forests and our rural communities very often go hand in hand,” Bonnie said. “USDA works with other public and thousands of private landowners through a range of programs and partnerships to decrease the threat of wildfire, restore forest habitat and increase economic and other opportunities for the families and businesses that make their homes near woodlands.”

Bonnie unveiled 11 new Joint Chiefs projects totaling $7 million for 2016, one of which was Indiana’s Hoosier Hills and Highlands Oak Community Restoration Partnership. With funding for the project coming through the Hoosier National Forest and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Indiana’s effort was the only new project funded in the northeast and Midwest, and at the third highest dollar amount in the country. The joint funding between the two agencies will improve conservation and restoration efforts on both public and private land in southern Indiana.

The Hoosier Hills and Highlands Oak Community Restoration Partnership project area is located within 18 counties of the most heavily forested and biologically diverse forest systems in the Central Hardwoods Region. The area provides habitat for federal and state-listed bats, birds, cave-dwelling species, and other declining wildlife species and also contains watersheds that provide drinking water to several communities. This project seeks to consolidate the individual efforts of a variety of partners focusing on oak community regeneration within the region. Project activities will help improve water quality, reduce wildfire risk, and enhance at-risk habitat on public and private lands. The project will also promote improved conservation and restoration practices on private lands, ensure consistent education and outreach, and enable implementation of preferred practices. This is a three year project with the potential to bring additional funds for its implementation in each of the next two years.

The funding for the project in Indiana was provided equally by the US Forest Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The project partners include: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Department of Defense, wide range of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, The Nature Conservancy, Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Indiana Forestry and Woodland Owners Association, Indiana Association of Consulting Foresters, Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, Lost River Watershed Group, Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Sycamore Land Trust, National Wild Turkey Federation, National Audubon Society, Ruffed Grouse Society, and American Woodcock Society

Jane Hardisty, NRCS State Conservationist, said the Indiana proposal is a great example of the power of partnerships. She said, “By taking an all-lands, all hands approach, Forest Service, NRCS, and their partners are working together to show that proactive investments to restore the state’s hardwood forests will benefit landowners, communities and taxpayers.”

Mike Chaveas, Hoosier National Forest Supervisor agrees, pointing out the region contains the largest contiguous block of forest in Indiana, and among the largest in the Midwest. Resource concerns for this project center around the lack of oak regeneration and the potential long term impact on native forest wildlife populations, plant diversity, and water quality; along with national, regional and local economies. He explain this project will address these concerns by funding practices that control Invasive and promote oak regeneration across private and public lands. Implementation of this project will also reduce soil erosion, protect and restore water courses and improve aquatic habitats through dam removal practices.

Since its start, $104 million has been invested through USDA’s Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership to reduce wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water resources, and improve habitat for at risk species. Summaries of all projects selected can be found on the NRCS website.