Protecting a rare boreal forest

Land trusts working in the Great Lakes basin understand that protecting fresh water means protecting the land. Here are some of the ways they are helping keep the Great Lakes great.

By Laura Eklov May 25, 2021

Ambler Flatwoods Nature Preserve lies within the headwaters of the Lake Michigan tributary White Ditch Creek. Pollution washing into the creek has caused water quality impairment and beach closings in Indiana and Michigan. Protection of the tributary’s headwaters will have a meaningful positive impact downstream by reducing pollutant loading in this Lake Michigan tributary.

The accredited Shirley Heinze Land Trust began acquiring Ambler Flatwoods in 1999 with a purchase funded by a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant. This led to a series of acquisition and restoration projects to preserve buffer habitat, reduce invasive species and create a haven for wildlife by planting native vegetation. In 2014, SHLT was recognized with an Excellence in Ecological Restoration silver award from Chicago Wilderness for its work on the preserve. Today, Ambler Flatwoods protects more than 600 acres of boreal forest with 350 acres accessible as an Indiana state nature preserve.

A grant from the Land Trust Alliance, funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, allowed SHLT to invest in GIS technology for strategic conservation planning. This enabled SHLT to find remaining parcels of high-quality boreal flatwood, educate the public on its importance and launch a landowner outreach program resulting in the protection of an additional 200 acres.

With funds from Sustain Our Great Lakes, SHLT expanded the Calumet Is My Backyard program in the Calumet region of northeast Indiana and northwest Illinois to bring high school students to Ambler Flatwoods to use as an outdoor classroom. Backing from the Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship Through Education Network allowed SHLT to offer college internships for land management and research experiences valuable to students’ careers. These SHLT programs and four miles of hiking trails make Ambler Flatwoods a rare landscape that is protected and appreciated by many.

Learn more at In the weeks ahead, watch our blog for other ways land trusts are making a difference in the Great Lakes basin.