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Changes to the Natural Landscape
Exotic Species


Changes to the Natural Landscape

The natural landscape of the dunes has been considerably altered by human actions. Highways, farms, cities, homes, and industrial complexes have forever changed the native southern shore of Lake Michigan. The disturbances to the landscape have not only reduced native species, but have allowed exotic species to take hold in these areas. Some exotic species are so aggressive, they are able to invade roadsides and power line openings where they displace less-aggressive native plants.

Between 1852 and 1865, the first railroads were built to reach Chicago allowing the Midwest to be accessible to the greater population.7 Soon stations and shipping points were established along the routes, eventually forming the nucleus of the towns to be established. Among these points were Porter, Calumet (Chesterton), Lake Station, and Dyer. The railroads allowed goods to be transported from the east rapidly and allowed raw materials to be brought in for new development.

Until the twentieth century, the shores of Lake Michigan in Indiana were relatively wild. Chicago was growing rapidly and industries needed land on which to expand; land near the shores of Lake Michigan. In about 1895, the federal government attempted to make the Grand Calumet River navigable through and to approximately mile east of Hammond. "Some parts of the river were dredged to a depth of ten feet three different times, and were as often filled by refuse from the George H. Hammond Packing Company, and by sewage from Hammond and Burnham." The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers abandoned the project in 1903, reporting no navigation on the river.8

When the United States Steel Corporation built its industrial complex on Lake Michigan in Gary, it moved the Grand Calumet River channel about 1 miles south. Hundreds of men and teams of horses and mules leveled the sand hills to prepare the plant site. During mill operations, millions of gallons of water were pumped each day from Lake Michigan and eventually discharged into the stream. In addition, water poured back into the river from the new roofs and paved streets of Gary.

Standard Oil moved its operations to Whiting to be closer to the Midwest markets. Also, there were more railroads converging in Chicago than any where else in the world. In addition, the lake provided cheap water for transportation and industrial purposes. Sand ridges were leveled and sloughs were filled. Water lines were constructed into Lake Michigan to bring water into the plant and eventually the city. Sewers were also built to drain Berry Lake and the low areas near the refinery.9

In the late 1800s, Inland Steel breathed life back into the City of East Chicago. The company was the largest industry to move into East Chicago. When the company representatives visited the site they had purchased, however, they found that 20 of the 50 acres were under Lake Michigan. The plant rapidly expanded as the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal was nearing completion. In 1907, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation allowing industries to fill Lake Michigan to the limits of the state's jurisdiction. The filling process allowed Inland to dispose of slag and continue to expand operations lakeward.10

Inland Steel 1997 (click to enlarge)

Sand was realized as a valuable commodity and provided a source of income for many years. Railroads needed sand for track elevation and municipalities needed it for filling. The site of the Chicago World's Fair, the Columbian Exposition of 1893, was filled in with sand from the area just east of Miller. Railroads were built along the side of dunes so that steam shovels on the cars could shovel sand directly into the cars. Sand was also sucked from the shallow waters of the lake by barges. In 1898, more than 300 cars of sand were shipped from the Dune Park station every day.11

Natural resources other than sand were found to be a source of income. Sawmills prospered because timber was plentiful. The dunes were filled with white pine and cedar. Roads, buildings, and boats were built with the lumber taken from the shore areas. Fish and furbearing animals continued to be a source of income for the new settlers as they were for the Native Americans and early traders. Rich deposits of lake clay and boulder clay stimulated a brick and tile business bringing the establishment of the City of Hobart and the Town of Porter.
In 1926, Burns Ditch was completed, changing the nature and course of the Little Calumet River. Because of periodic floods of the Little Calumet, the surrounding area was a marshland. The river would flow over the roads of Gary and in winter, cause ice jams at the Broadway bridge. In 1908, Randall Burns of Chicago launched an effort to "reclaim" the land. The high sands of the Tolleston Beach and the dunes separating the marsh and Lake Michigan were cut. The flow of the Little Calumet and the Deep River, which joins the Little Calumet, were diverted into the lake just east of Ogden Dunes. The Little Calumet was also dredged to the mouth of Salt Creek. These projects reclaimed more than 20,000 acres in Porter County and in Gary.12

Midwest Steel and Bethlehem Steel companies, looked to Indiana for a new harbor. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the companies bought land in the sand dunes. Here two new steel mills were erected. The harbor constructed near Burn's Ditch (Porter Burns Waterway) provided a successful port on the Great Lakes for these companies.13

After 1901, not only was an increasing portion of the southern Lake Michigan landscape altered by man, but the new man-made features were beginning to degrade what was left of the natural environment. The air became full of the flue dust, coal and coke, and iron oxide which was emitted from the steel industries. Other waste materials were spouting from the new inhabitants such as effluent from rolling mills, solid and liquid waste from pickling lines, and slag from furnace operations. Most of these materials were discharged in wastewater directly to the Grand Calumet River, landfilled, or lakefilled.14

Exotic Species

When the settlers first arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan, 79 species of fish were found in the lake and another 40 species were recorded from its tributaries. The most popular of these species were commercially fished and included primarily whitefish, lake sturgeon, and lake trout. As some stocks became depleted, lake herring and deep-water ciscoes became the target. Eventually, yellow perch was in demand.

Over-fishing the resource in the lake impacted the fishery. The introduction of the sea lamprey also contributed to the alteration of the fish community. First identified in Lake Michigan in 1936, they gained access to the Great Lakes from the oceans through man-made shipping canals. The lamprey population grew rapidly as parasites on the native lake trout and burbot. Eventually, lake trout was eliminated from Lake Michigan due to improved commercial fishing nets and the sea lampreys.

By 1949, alewife was abundant in Lake Michigan, having also invaded through the shipping canals. The alewife population exploded since with the collapse of the lake trout; there were few predators. By 1960, approximately 99% of the biomass in Lake Michigan consisted of alewife. The alewife drastically impacted the ecology of Lake Michigan. The fish is planktivorous and due to its abundance, reduced the plankton population necessary to foster native planktivores. Alewife predation on larval fish of several species was also thought to contribute to a declining fishery.

In the middle 1960s, efforts were made to rehabilitate the Lake Michigan fishery resource. Lampricide was used to control the sea lamprey. In 1965, lake trout were restocked. Coho salmon were stocked in 1966 and chinook salmon were stocked in 1967 by the State of Michigan. Other Lake Michigan states began stocking salmon as this species proved to provide a healthy sport fishery. Although salmon is not a native specie of Lake Michigan, its presence, along with the new population of trout, were beginning to diminish the alewife population. As a result, native species suppressed by the alewife started to come back.

More recently, alewife populations have again increased. In the early summer of 1996, a colder than normal spring and the large populations led to a major die-off. According to Jim Francis, Fisheries Biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, "Lake Michigan is a deep-water, cold lake except for here in the southern part. The area Indiana owns is shallow compared to the rest of the lake, so it warms up quicker. Alewives like warm water, so they come here. . . . With the prevailing westerly winds, alewives that die will wash up on the eastern shore near New Buffalo and Michigan City." Tom Anderson of the Save the Dunes Council reflected that the die-off was the worst he remembered since the 1960s.16

Today, more exotic species are being identified in the waters of Lake Michigan. The presence of nonindigenious species has coincided with theopening of the St. Lawrence Seaway; however commercial ships and recreational boats also contribute to the spread of these creatures. In addition to direct influences on the fishery, indirect impacts such as poor land use practices, dam construction, and water pollution have affected the fish community.

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