INDIANAPOLIS — The outlook for endangered and threatened species in Indiana is mixed — bleak for some and promising for others.
Of the 27 threatened/endangered species listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10 are freshwater mussels. One of those mussels is the clubshell, which is part of a restoration effort in Indiana.
Clubshells in the direct path of a bridge project in Pennsylvania that would have been killed are instead being moved. Some of those mussels have been relocated to the Hoosier State.
“I’d say so far we’ve seen pretty good results, pretty good survival of those mussels,” said Lori Pruitt, endangered species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Indiana.
All three mammals listed as endangered or threatened in Indiana are bats, which have been hit hard by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in North America. First spotted in New York in 2006, the disease has spread westward.
“Populations of northern long-eared bats have really been decimated by the disease,” Pruitt said. “We estimate here in Indiana that we’ve lost over 90% of our northern long-eared bats to white-nose syndrome.”
After exhaustive study, scientists are beginning to understand the disease better, according to Pruitt.
There are also signs bats are becoming more resistant to the disease. Large numbers of the once-common little brown bat have been lost to the disease. But the remaining little brown bats seem to have some resistance, Pruitt said.
The little brown, listed as endangered by the state, is being assessed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and could be added to the federal list.
Pollinators have been in steep decline, as well. The rusty patched bumble bee, the first bumble bee listed as endangered, exists in three populations in the state. Efforts to establish more populations of the bumble bee species in Indiana have been unsuccessful.
Loss of habitat is the primary reason for the decline. Efforts to bring back the bee and other pollinators like the monarch butterfly, which is being assessed and could be added to the endangered list, are focused on habitat and limiting the use of pesticides where the insects live, according to Pruitt.
While declining populations of mussels, bats and bees present a continuing challenge, some species are making a comeback in Indiana.
The least tern is poised to be taken off the threatened/endangered list.
While Indiana isn’t a prime area for the tern, in the 1980s a population was discovered at a Duke Energy property in Gibson County. The birds were nesting on a gravel dyke, similar to the sandbars they use in the wild, in a cooling water pond.
Duke Energy worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service to help protect the colony, and it has since expanded to the Cane Ridge Wildlife Management area and Goose Pond. A decision on delisting the tern is expected in the fall.
“People need to be aware,” Pruitt said of the state’s compromised species. “If people don’t care about these things, then efforts to conserve them become a lot more difficult.”
Here are four other threatened/endangered species in Indiana:
Critical habitat for the endangered Indiana bat includes Big Wyandotte Cave at O’Bannon Woods State Park in Crawford County and Ray’s Cave in Greene County. The bat was first listed in 1967 because of people disturbing hibernating bats in caves during the winter. The bats have declined 20% since the arrival of white-nose syndrome.
This endangered bird nests in Indiana on the Lake Michigan shore. In 1983, there were just 13 nesting pairs in Indiana. As of 2014, nesting pairs had increased to 70.
Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
This rattlesnake, which is found in Allen, Carroll, Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciuscko, Lagrange, Lake, LaPorte, Marshall, Noble, Porter, Pulaski, St. Joseph, Starke, Steuben and Whitley counties, is listed as endangered. Habitat includes wetlands and adjacent uplands.
Only 267 populations exist today. About a dozen of those are in Indiana. The eastern massasauga is venomous but not aggressive; it rarely bites humans. ACRES Land Trust in Allen County recently added 12 acres to Quog Lake preserve, home to a population of the eastern massasauga.
This endangered species is found in Carroll, Cass, Clark, Crawford, Dearborn, Floyd, Fulton, Harrison, Jefferson, Knox, Marshall, Martin, Ohio, Perry, Posey, Pulaski, Spencer, Starke, Switzerland, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Wabash, Warrick and White counties. Habitat includes the Eel, Ohio, Tippecanoe, Wabash and East Fork White rivers.
The sheepnose mussel has been eliminated from two-thirds of its historical range. To reproduce, they depend on their larva attaching to the gills of sauger.