Jefferson Proving Grounds

JEFFERSON PROVING GROUNDS

The Jefferson Proving Grounds was a 55,000 acre Army munitions testing facility which was closed in 1995. It is located in Southeastern Indiana in Jefferson, Ripley, and Jennings Counties just north of Madison.

A proposal to turn 51,000 of these acres into a National Wildlife Refuge has been gaining support and was endorsed by the Department of the Army. This year the Army suspended negotiations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Army is considering a proposal from the Air National Guard to expand their military aircraft training flights over the area. In the meantime the Fish and Wildlife Service has been managing the area to protect the large hardwood forest areas, maintain the grassland habitats, and promote the recovery of endangered species.

The area is considered to be an ecological treasure. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated in its draft wildlife refuge concept plan that, "A preliminary Service biodiversity ranking for the proposed refuge indicates that it could exceed that of any of Region 3's presently approved projects." The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says of the JPG, "Nowhere can such an assortment of the region's natural heritage be found; it just does not exist, especially at the scale found in JPG, anywhere else."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Indiana DNR have conducted biological surveys of JPG, and found a wide diversity of both rare and common wildlife and plant species. Several of the streams have very high water quality and support rich fisheries-with over forty different fish species found as well as numerous species of freshwater mussels, which are among the most imperiled organisms on the planet. River otter, once extirpated from Indiana, were reintroduced into the proving ground in 1996. The forested areas contain common species including the whitetail deer; wild turkey; and the rare birds and mammals such as the sharp-shined hawk, cerulean warbler; and most likely the bobcat. The federally endangered Indiana bat has been found in all of the major stream drainages of the proving ground, and is known to be breeding there. JPG, in the heart of the bat's range, may very well constitute an essential habitat reserve for the Indiana bat. Thirty-eight species of turtles, toads, frogs, salamanders, and snakes are found at JPG including the state-listed Kirtlands water snake. Many of these animals are dependent on the six thousand acres of wetlands scattered throughout JPG. Twenty-nine rare plants were identified by IDNR naturalists. The 120 species of breeding birds at the proving ground include a number of forest-dependent species, among them many of the wood warblers whose ability to reproduce successfully depends on the availability of unbroken forest habitat. JPG contains some of the largest contiguous forest area in the lower Midwest, including the whole area north of 'K' Road. The large grassland areas provide valuable habitat for the rare Henslow's sparrow.

Indiana cave experts have conducted cave surveys at JPG, finding at least 31 caves.
It is never too late to make your voice heard. We should not let this grand opportunity slip away. Write a letter to the Department of the Army and copy to your Congressperson as well as the area Representative and the Indiana Senators. Their addresses are below.

Honorable Paul Johnson
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Installation and Housing
Department of the Army
110 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0110

The Honorable Baron Hill
U.S. House of Representatives
1208 Longworth Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Richard Lugar
U.S. Senate
306 Hart Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Evan Bayh
U.S. Senate
B 40-2 Dirkson Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

(Information used for this article provided by the Hoosier Environmental Council)