Partnered with American Forests, The Nature Conservancy of Indiana planted 53,450 mixed hardwood in the spring of 1998 on 115 acres of the Big Walnut Nature Preserve, owned by the IN Deptartment of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves. Big Walnut protects the second largest remnant of tillplain forest remaining in Indiana, including several stands of old-growth timber. Tillplain forest once covered half of the state, but the rich soils that developed under these conditions now support some of the most productive farms in the world. The tillplain forests today are reduced largely to small woodlots averaging less than 40 acres and because of their small size are subject to intense edge-effect pressures. An example of detrimental edge effect is the poor nesting success of forest-nesting birds in these small woodlots. Two edge associated phenomena contribute to the problem. First, nest predators like raccoons, opossums, and domestic cats thrive at unnaturally high densities in landscapes dominated by agriculture. They prey on the bird eggs and chicks, and the problem is severe where household wastes and trash provide a stable, primary source of food for these scavengers. Small woodlots are also subject to parasitization from cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the nests of other species. Once hatched, the young cowbird dominates the nest and decreases the survival rate of other chicks in the nest. Cowbirds are abundant in the open habitats, but fly into the woodlots in search of other birds nests. Cowbirds generally penetrate up to a 1/4 mile into the forest, thereby suggesting that larger acreages would allow songbirds to survive. Recent research has demonstrated that over 90% of all the young produced in 100 acre woodlots are cowbirds. Big Walnut Nature Preserve is one of the few sites in central Indiana which offers the chance to protect 'interior forest' conditions and to provide optimal conditions for forest-nesting birds, and helping restore Indiana's rich natural heritage.
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