wildlife returning to area
By DAVID KNOPP
ALBION - As if by an act of magic in which the magician
makes an animal disappear and then reappear, Hoosiers directly
and indirectly wiped out 22 animal species from the state by
1900 and endangered others that, in some cases, have been re-established
during the mid- to late-1900s.
At the time of white settlement in the early 1800s "wild
game were common in the state and commonly used for food, clothing
and trade by the settlers," according to George R. Parker,
a Purdue University professor of forest ecology.
Writing in "The Natural Heritage of Indiana," Parker
explains "squirrel, turkey, grouse, raccoon, bear and deer
provided the major subsistence to settlers until enough land
was cleared for crops and livestock. Skins from beaver, otter,
raccoon, deer and bear were traded for essentials such as salt
An account of Swan Township history in the booklet "Noble
County and the Indiana Sesquicentennial," by Norman J. Carter,
tells that when local white settlement was taking place in the
1830s there was so much wild game that "meat, as a rule,
was easily procured."
The booklet's account of Noble Township history reports that
from 1827 (when the area's first white settler, Joel Bristol,
arrived) through the 1830s "the new immigrant supplied the
family larder mainly with the rifle, as deer and other wild game
were numerous ... A considerable quantity of meat, as well as
furs, was obtained from the Indians, who exchanged the products
of the chase for flour, vegetables, ammunition and other of the
white man's commodities."
As a result of ever-increasing settlement, however, "many
of the larger animal species, such as black bear, cougar, wolf,
elk and bison, declined," according to Parker, "due
to unlimited harvest and as the extensive forests were broken
Carter wrote that bears "were troublesome" to the early
Noble County settlers "but they soon fled the growing civilization,"
while the wolf population was decimated by settlers annoyed with
the carnivores' killing of sheep. The slaughter was bolstered
by a state bounty on wolf scalps enacted in 1840.
By 1860 large mammal species "such as the buffalo, elk,
cougar, martin and wolverine had been eliminated from the state
and many others were rare," wrote Parker. "Bobcat,
turkey, and deer were no longer common."
Around that time the situation began to change ever-so-slightly,
however, not by magic but with passage of a law by the Indiana
General Assembly in 1857 limiting the hunting season on deer
and upland game, the first law aimed at protecting Indiana's
The General Assembly went on to adopt the first fishing season
in 1867, and passed regulations preserving songbirds in 1873
and woodcock and ducks in 1877.
There was no effective enforcement of those and similar laws
until 1889, however, when state government called on the State
Fish and Game Protection Association, an organization of fishermen
and hunters with headquarters in Indianapolis and supporting
organizations in each county, to help.
The group hired 100 private wildlife "detectives,"
now considered as the state's first conservation officers, who
were paid through funds provided by the association and other
organizations with similar interests.
In 1919 enforcement was taken over by the Department of Conservation,
which was established by the General Assembly and led to the
present Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Parker wrote that while loss and abuse of the natural character
of the Indiana landscape continues even today, the period since
1900, by which time 22 animal species had been extirpated from
the state and many more were endangered, has generally been one
of "increasing awareness, protection and management ...
Overall the natural elements are in better condition today than
Transfer of private land into public ownership for protection
of natural resources began in 1903, with the purchase of 2,000
acres in Clark County to create the first State Forest Reservation,
now known as Clark State Forest.
Other factors in natural resources protection have included conservation
education, improved farming practices, private and public habitat
restoration, and better wetland management.
animals focused on so far by restoration efforts in Indiana have
been deer, wild turkeys and river otters.
Deer began to rebound in 1934, when the state's Division of Fish
and Game released 35 whitetails in southern hills. Gradually
deer were restored to every county and reached a herd of 40,000
within 30 years.
The herd is so large now that annual harvest numbers across the
state have totaled more than 100,000 in each of the last six
Restoration of wild turkeys began with the release of 35 in southern
Indiana in 1964, and they too are now found in areas throughout
A five-year DNR river otter reintroduction program began in 1995,
and included releases at the Mallard Roost Wetland Conservation
Area near Albion in 1997 and 1998.
As a result of the program, DNR officials believe river otters
now occupy 22 counties in the state.