Indiana will acquire a 43,000-acre swath of west-central Indiana flood plains for a project to restore and preserve wetlands that Gov. Mitch Daniels predicted Thursday would become a wildlife-filled tourist destination.
The governor detailed the effort, the first of two planned wetland projects, during a news conference in Terre Haute. He will announce the second project Friday in southeastern Indiana's Scott County.
Together, the combined acreage of the two habitat conservation areas will be the largest project ever undertaken by the state Department of Natural Resources, Daniels said.
"Our goal is to make this a landmark era for conservation of natural beauty in our state and make Indiana a national leader in wetlands and wildlife protection," he said in a statement.
Land acquisition for the two separate projects from willing sellers will be funded by $21.5 million from a state conservation trust fund and $10 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The wetlands restoration and preservation projects will become attractive regional tourist destinations by protecting habitat vital to threatened and endangered species and safeguarding rest areas for migratory birds, particularly waterfowl, he said.
Daniels said the projects would also provide flood relief to nearby landowners because wetlands act as natural sponges to absorb floodwaters.
He said the state would begin by acquiring acreage in the flood plains of the Wabash River and Sugar Creek in west-central Indiana. That flood-prone land lines 94 river miles from Shades State Park near Crawfordsville to the Fairbanks Landing Fish & Wildlife Area south of Terre Haute.
The Sugar Creek and Wabash River corridors harbor a rich mix of Indiana's rarest fish, mussels, birds and plants, and offer nesting sites for bald eagles and great blue herons.
Those land is also populated by the Canada yew, Eastern hemlock and white pine — all ice age remnants now rare in Indiana.
The planned Wabash River wetlands area is expected to be larger than the combined size of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest and Brown County State Park. And it will increase DNR-owned riparian wetland areas by more than 64 percent.
After the land is purchased, DNR officials will use the state and federal money to leverage additional private and federal funding for the protection and restoration of the corridor, Daniels said.
Those groups will include The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited, a national conservation group based in Memphis, Tenn.
"This restoration project will help ensure the landscapes and communities that make Indiana great will thrive for generations to come," said Mark Tercek, CEO and president of The Nature Conservancy.