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SWAP Conservation Success Stories

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When species thrive, so do we

Wildlife and the natural systems that support it need variety to be healthy. Each unique animal contributes to this balance. Our best success stories include recovery of fish and wildlife species to a point at which they can live and thrive on their own again in the state. Click on a story below to see just a few examples.

The best part? We thrive alongside our wildlife. When our most sensitive species flourish, it is a sign of a cleaner and healthier environment for us, too.

  • Helping hellbenders in the Blue River

    Indiana’s hellbender populations have declined for decades. The last remaining population lives in the Blue River. The large, brown aquatic salamander breathes through wrinkly folds on its skin and is currently being aided by researchers to support its recovery. Each year since 2017, the DNR has worked with Purdue University and partnering zoos to release juvenile captive-raised hellbenders into the Blue River to augment its declining population. Hellbenders have become one of Indiana’s most researched amphibians. Both past and future studies involve searching for other rocky streams suitable for hellbender recovery and establishing release goals for different sites along the Blue River. According to Nate Engbrecht, DNR herpetologist, Purdue and the DNR’s efforts have helped Indiana become a hub for hellbender studies. “I’m proud that Indiana has become a leader in hellbender research and conversation in the Midwest,” Engbrecht says.

    Diver examining hellbender in water

    DNR staff and partners track the survival of hellbenders in the Blue River.

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  • Expanding Indiana‚Äôs Bald Eagle Population

    If you were born before the early 1990s, it’s likely you don’t remember seeing bald eagles as a kid. Although the bald eagle was once listed as endangered in Indiana, researchers have successfully increased the population through a reintroduction of chicks. Researchers like Al Parker and Allisyn Gillet have worked for years to capture the eagles and perform health checks on them. As the eagles grew, they kept tabs on the species, watching them fly to places like Alberta and New York. “It was kind of cool to see some of these birds really range far,” Parker said, with the hopes they’d return to Indiana to nest. Over the 1990s into the 2000s, bald eagle populations expanded. In 2020, Indiana delisted bald eagles from our Species of Special Concern, as the state reported 396 nests.

    People holding bald eagle

    A state ornithologist places an identification band on a young bald eagle.

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  • Increasing freshwater mussel populations in rivers

    Northern riffleshell and clubshell thrive in areas with clean, clear, swift-flowing water. Both of these federally endangered mussel species were once distributed within the Ohio River and Lake Erie drainages of Indiana but are now known to live in only in a few locations in the state. Augmenting populations of Northern riffleshell in the Tippecanoe River and reintroducing clubshell in the Eel River would provide a better opportunity for the continued persistence of both species in Indiana and help improve water quality.

    To complete this translocation project, the Division of Fish & Wildlife collaborated with several partners. Adult Northern riffleshell and clubshell have been monitored for survival, growth, and movements since they were received from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. While survival of Northern riffleshell has been less than that of clubshell, it resembles what other states that received mussels have seen. Future efforts will include searches for juveniles of each species to determine if any successful reproduction is occurring.

    Hand holding mussel

    DNR staff place ID tags on mussels to track their survival over time.

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  • Discovering previously unseen Tippecanoe darters

    One of the smallest fish species in Indiana waters, the Tippecanoe darter rarely reaches 2 inches in length. Males at the peak of the spawning season are a vibrant orange, with bluish-blackish vertical bars along their sides. Females maintain a tannish-brownish coloration year-round.

    This diminutive species lives in Indiana’s rivers and streams in rocky areas with good current, where it buries deep into the gravel and cobble. The Tippecanoe darter was once considered extremely rare in Indiana, known from only a few sporadic locations around the state. To gain a more complete understanding of its distribution, biologists developed specialized sampling techniques. They secure a small net in the stream in areas of good Tippecanoe darter habitat, and then they disturb the river bottom directly upstream with their feet. These targeted surveys revealed that the Tippecanoe darter was actually much more widely distributed than previously thought. As a result, in 2017, the Tippecanoe darter was delisted from Indiana’s list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

    People in canoe, river

    Focused survey efforts help DNR find undiscovered populations of the Tippecanoe Darter.

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We have more success stories to share!

Visit the 40 stories project to read more about our species success stories and the DNR staff and donors who have made them possible.

Help us create many more success stories

Re-establishing a viable population of an at-risk species is neither a certainty nor an easy feat. Restoring wildlife takes time. It takes expertise. It takes commitment, and it takes caring people like you who support our work.

The Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund provides a portion of funds behind these success stories and many more. Learn how you can contribute to this important work.

Species Recovery

While there remains much conservation to be done and many species to recover, there are some recent successes.


In 2018 the osprey was down listed from State Endangered to Special Concern.  Even though the Osprey, as a Special Concern species, remains a Species of Greatest Conservation Need, this down listing reflects the continued growth and expansion of Osprey in Indiana.  This is a great success story and one that speaks to the value of diverse partnerships, the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund and the State Wildlife Grant program.

Northern Leopard Frog

During the latter half of the 20th century Northern leopard frogs experienced considerable declines in several parts of their range, including Indiana, and in 1984 were listed as a Species of Special Concern. However, the frogs have responded well to habitat restoration and are now relatively common in the northern part of the state. As such, in 2017 the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Amphibian and Reptile Technical Advisory Committee voted unanimously to delist Northern leopard frogs. In 2019 will be formally removed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Eastern Spadefoot Frog

Eastern Spadefoot Toad

Due to survey efforts demonstrating that this species was more common than originally thought, the Eastern Spadefoot Toad was removed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 2018.

Tippecanoe Darter

Tippecanoe Darter

Due to this fish’s ability to burrow deeply into the gravel beds of streams, it was historically under sampled. With improved sampling techniques this fish is found to be more common than originally thought. It was removed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in 2018.

Black Bear

black bear
Photo by
US Fish & Wildlife Service

Black Bears are expanding their range in neighboring states. The fact that there have been three confirmed bears in Indiana since 2015 speaks to this expansion into Indiana. As result Black Bear was added to Indiana’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Previously, the Black Bear was listed as extirpated. Even though it was added to the list, it is widely considered a good add because of its return to Indiana after over a century of being extirpated.

List of 2017 External (Partnership-based) Research Projects

Land Acquisition

With the help of many conservation partners (9 NGO, 7 governmental agencies, 1 private industry and over 50 private citizens), the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has purchased 10,977 acres of habitat within SWAP identified Conservation Opportunity Areas (COA) since January 1, 2015.

DNR Division     Number of of Acres        
Fish and Wildlife 1,989
Forestry 706
Nature Preserves 1,254
State Parks & Reservoirs 3
Totals 3,952
DNR Division     Number of of Acres        
Fish and Wildlife 1,319
Forestry 424
Nature Preserves


Outdoor Recreation 11
State Parks & Reservoirs 1
Totals 3,835
DNR Division     Number of of Acres        
Fish and Wildlife 461
Forestry 1
Nature Preserves  473
Outdoor Recreation 229
Totals 1,164
DNR Division     Number of of Acres        
Fish and Wildlife  1,192
Forestry 109
Nature Preserves 699
Outdoor Recreation 9
State Parks & Reservoirs 17
Totals  2,026

Program Development

State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Program (SAFE)

Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Private Lands Program utilized the State Wildlife Action Plan in the development of SAFE. SAFE enrollment started in 2008 and as of July 2018, Indiana has 58,567 acres enrolled. The purpose of the SAFE program is to:

  • Restore grasslands and maintain them to ensure healthy, diverse grassland habitat types for the grassland focal species (Northern Bobwhite, Sedge Wren, Henslow’s Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow and Ring-necked Pheasant).
  • Restore and enhance connectivity of hardwood forests for Indiana Bat.
  • To restore wetland habitat on working lands for shorebirds.

For more information on SAFE program contact your Private Lands Biologist

Grasslands for Gamebirds and Songbirds Initiative (GGS)

The State Wildlife Action Plan was utilized in the development of this program by targeting areas of Indiana with the greatest potential for grassland habitat restoration and enhancement. Focal species are Northern Bobwhite, Henslow’s Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike and Ring-necked Pheasant. In addition, this initiative will greatly benefit pollinator insects. GGS is an award winning partnership between Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Foundation, private industry, other non-profit organizations and others.

Conservation On Rivers and Roadways Intended to Develop Opportunities for Resources and Species program (CORRIDORS)

This program gives priority to all State Wildlife Action Plan Conservation Opportunity Areas, rights-of-way along state and federal highways and 100-year flood plains of rivers to establish habitats for grassland dependent wildlife and pollinators.

Lake and River Enhancement Program (LARE)

LARE is grant program designed to provide technical and financial assistance for projects that protect and enhance aquatic fish and wildlife habitat on Indiana’s publicly accessible lakes, streams and rivers. Projects within State Wildlife Action Plan Conservation Opportunity Areas are given higher consideration when evaluating LARE applications.

Indiana Stream and Wetland Mitigation Program

Threats to species and habitats as identified in Indiana’s State Wildlife Action Plan were referenced in the development of this program. Indiana Stream and Wetland Mitigation Program is an in-lieu fee that allows IDNR to sell stream and wetland and mitigation credits for unavoidable impacts to waters of the United States. By referencing Indiana’s State Wildlife Action Plan, IDNR is able to focus credits within Conservation Opportunity Areas.

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