• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation
Shirley Heinze Land Trust worked with the Land Trust Alliance, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, and local partners to assess the impacts of local climate change and develop adaptive ecological management goals for preserved lands and waters within the East Branch of the Little Calumet River Conservation Corridor.

Project Area

Map showing the East Branch of the Little Calumet River and Shirley Heinze Land Trust areas
In 2014, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, with the support of more than 30 partner agencies and organizations, successfully spearheaded an effort to attain Indiana Bicentennial Nature Trust (BNT) Conservation Area designation for the East Branch of the Little Calumet River Corridor. Since that time, Shirley Heinze Land Trust has been able to leverage BNT funds to preserve over 470 acres along the main river corridor, in addition to land preserved by Indiana DNR, the National Park Service, county parks departments, and the Izaak Walton League. The project has involved comprehensive conservation planning and prioritization and has set the stage for preserving more than 12 miles of river and connecting more than 2,500 acres of permanently protected land through LaPorte and Porter Counties in the southern Lake Michigan watershed.

The East Branch of the Little Calumet River Conservation Corridor Project has helped to accelerate the preservation, restoration, and water quality improvement efforts within an ecologically significant riparian area. Project goals have included land acquisition, prioritization of acquisitions, collaborative land management planning, ecological restoration, identification of green infrastructure opportunities, and evaluation of policy mechanisms and barriers.

Management Goals

Managers doing invasive species treatment in a floodplain forest

Goal: Connect managed lands to form a larger preserved landscape.

Description: SHLT continually seeks to increase land holdings to connect preserved properties to each other forming a larger landscape scale conservation area. Alternatively, acquiring surrounding lands may help buffer and protect a more ecologically valuable core preserve area. For these reasons, SHLT will seek to identify and acquire additional parcels around and near the preserves.

Goal: Install infrastructure when practical to provide accessibility to the public

Description: SHLT strives to provide public access to preserves when practical for passive recreation and education purposes. SHLT achieves this goal through the installation of small parking areas, trail systems, boardwalks, bridges, stairs, informational signage, interpretive signage, fences, and gates. These types of amenities also help to facilitate property stewardship and restoration by providing parking for vehicles and equipment and accessibility for stewardship staff. Careful planning is implemented in order to limit the impact or “footprint” of such infrastructure and protect sensitive areas. In the case of sensitive habitat and areas of high ecological value, which face significant ecological threats, or access is impractical accessibility may be limited or prohibited.

Goal:  Protect and restore native plant communities through the removal of invasive and exotic species.

Description: The stewardship staff of SHLT seeks to map, evaluate, treat, and remove invasive species populations from managed properties. This is accomplished through the use of various restoration techniques including mowing, cutting and removal, hand pulling, and herbicide applications. SHLT works to implement new strategies such as GIS mapping and a weed management plan template developed by The Nature Conservancy and utilized by SHLT and other partners within the Indiana Coastal Cooperative Weed Management Area (ICCWMA). SHLT staff may also enlist partners, volunteers, student interns, and contractors to assist with this goal.

Goal:  Restore and re-create lost plant communities.

Description: The SHLT Stewardship Program evaluates property needs and determines restoration/recreation projects suited to the property. This entails converting former land uses back to a pre-settlement native plant community, native communities adapted to current conditions, or plant communities that support, supplement, and expand nearby remnant habitat. This includes restoring tree canopy in agricultural fields and old fields, restoring hydrology by removing drain tiles and filling ditches, and restoring prairie and savanna habitat through the removal of trees and brush. A property may then be enhanced through the addition of native seed and plant plugs that increase diversity and support the restoration efforts. Stewardship staff will first create a restoration plan that details the tasks, timeline, cost, and desired outcomes of the project.

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
Increase in heavy precipitation and flood events
Increased growing season and reduced number of frost days
Increased number of extreme heat days and drought conditions
Increased invasive species, pests, and diseases
Altered phenology

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:


Increased flood events could alter plant community assemblages in floodplain wetlands. Species may be lost due to increased inundation.
Increased flood events will increase runoff of nutrients and sediment into the river. This will have a negative impact on plant communities and wildlife habitat. Increased runoff will make water quality improvements more difficult to achieve.
Increased flood events will cause erosion on steep slopes of forested ravines, changing geologic conditions.
Increased flood events may make access to wetlands for restoration/management more difficult.
Increased flood events will limit public access due to trail flooding and dangerous river conditions.
Extended growing season and reduced number of frost days could benefit new invasive species.
Extended growing season and reduced frost days will make it more difficult to implement restoration/management activities that require frozen ground and dormancy of plants and wildlife.
Extended growing season and reduced frost days could negatively impact seed stratification and native seedbank germination.
Increased heat and drought conditions could result in a loss of some ecosystem types including ephemeral wetlands, mesic forest, and mesic prairie.
Increased drought could have a negative impact on tree canopy in forested systems.
Increased number of extreme heat days can raise water temperature and negatively impact suitability of wildlife habitat.
Increased drought could reduce water table/aquifer and impact habitats adapted around seeps and springs.
Increase in invasive species, pests, and disease could negatively impact all ecosystem types
Increased pests, such as ticks, will have a negative impact on visitor access
Altered phenology can reduce native species regeneration
Altered phenology can result in cascade effect leading to ecosystem collapse


Increased flooding, drought, or altered phenology could negatively impact invasive species.
Extended growing season and altered phenology could result in increased opportunities to treat/manage invasive species.
Novel plant communities and species adapted to new climate conditions could be desirable at times and increase total diversity.
Reforestation and native community establishment could be hastened by extended growing season, increased CO2, and a warmer climate.
Increased flooding around the river corridor could reduce land value and increase opportunity for land preservation.

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

Prohibit unauthorized vehicle access
Limit equipment used for restoration/management to dry/frozen ground conditions.
Avoid trail installation in sensitive soils or erosion prone areas.
Mitigate beaver caused flooding through dam removal or beaver deceiver structures
Remove drain tiles and fill in legacy ditches when possible
Utilize wetland mitigation opportunities to strategically recreate wetlands to improve hydrology
Continue to collaborate with partners on invasive species efforts through Indiana Coastal Cooperative Weed Management Area.
Continue to support Indiana Invasive Species Council efforts.
Continue to use and promote EDDMAPS early detection rapid response methods to identify and treat new invasive species.
Utilize our GIS technology to map known invasive species populations on managed land and follow up with treatments and data collection.
Include invasive species removal in restoration plans and seek grant funding to implement restoration projects.
Treat invasive species on preserves through routine maintenance and management with Stewardship Program staff.
Enlist volunteer support to treat invasive species through volunteer workdays.
Monitor for excessive herbivory during routine site visits.
Plant overabundance of trees during reforestation efforts to mitigate loss to herbivory.
Protect rare plant species prone to herbivory through fencing and similar barrier structures.
Conduct deer management activities on properties where deer herbivory is an issue.
Reconnect floodplains adjacent to incised river channels.
Acquire significant floodplain parcels along the main river channel
Work with partners to investigate feasibility of re-meandering the river in areas where it has been straightened.
Re-create wetlands in strategic areas around agricultural drainage to function in nutrient and sediment removal before entering main river channel.
Create and implement agriculture engagement strategy, work with NRCS and county Soil and Water Districts to promote BMPS on agricultural land
Create and implement working land protection strategy to preserve farmland, limit development, and promote BMPs around watershed.


Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Annual site monitoring to protect preserves from misuse, anthropogenic disturbance, poaching, and encroachment.
Invasive species monitoring through staff GIS mapping and EDDMaps citizen science.
Water quality monitoring through staff/partner efforts, local universities, and citizen science programs.
Rare plant population monitoring by Stewardship Program Staff and through Plants Of Concern citizen science program.
Wildlife monitoring through citizen science programs (frogs, birds, bats).
Reforestation monitoring through annual walkthroughs by Stewardship staff.
Restoration monitoring of pre/post restoration conditions by staff and consultants.

Next Steps

Information from the adaptation workbook will be incorporated into the management plan.


Invasive species
Landscape-scale planning
Lowland/ bottomland hardwoods
Management plan

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