Experts in Northwest Indiana Create an Adaptation Plan to Protect the Indiana Dunes

Outcomes and Conclusions

The plan identifies expected impacts to the Indiana dunes due to climate change. The main impact concerns were to ecology, landscape connectivity, hydrology, prescribed fire procedures and infrastructure and park management. These concerns included expected changes to the profile of the shoreline, native competition with invasive species, land fragmentation that decreases biodiversity and human health risks in the form of disease, excess heat exposure and more frequent and costly park maintenance demands.

The plan offers numerous options for adapting to the impacts of climate change, including strategies for implementation. One ecology adaptation option suggests storing seeds of vulnerable plant species. One hydrology adaptation option suggests filling ditches to redirect water over the land to promote infiltration. One adaptation option concerning park management and infrastructure is to hire more staff to manage increased park maintenance demands.

Identifying specific local problem areas made the plan more useful to local governments. For example, it can be used by local governments considering changes to existing ordinances and zoning. It is important to local government that development is environmentally resilient and safe from climate change impacts such as flooding, already a major concern in northwest Indiana. If zoning ordinances are not updated to reflect the changing environment, infrastructure may be at greater risk of flood damage. Local officials can embed climate resilience into zoning by updating flood zones or preserving open space that helps absorb flood waters. Regulating land usage in proximity to the lakes and creating incentives for low impact development (LID) and reducing chemical inputs from nearby agriculture will reduce lake pollution, which in turn will increase biodiversity. Updating zoning ordinances to reflect the changing environment is particularly helpful when the South Shore of Lake Michigan is expecting an increase in development due to the expansion of a high speed railroad to Chicago in Northern Indiana.


The groups working on the plan wished they could have included an analysis of social and cultural issues. Funding was not immediately available for these pieces of analysis, and locating funding would have delayed the publication of the findings in the current plan. The inclusion of a social/cultural scientist in the plan development process would have helped to address questions such as, “How are parks employees affected by working in hotter temperatures and the greater prevalence of ticks?”

Future revisions of the adaptation plan would benefit from collaboration with more local government officials, experts in their local ordinances. Government officials may have local climate change adaptation strategies that could be incorporated into the adaptation plan. 

Save the Dunes and The Field Museum found it challenging to corral all of the participants to attend workshops. This necessitated a great deal of time outside of the workshops to communicate with contributors.

Lessons Learned

Cathy Martin of Save the Dunes said, “If I had to do it all over again, I would start earlier and have a fourth workshop in which we discuss a draft of the adaptation plan. Contributors would then have an opportunity to make changes during group discussion, rather than electronically.”

Project Resources

For more information about the Indiana Dunes adaptation plan, contact:

Cathy Martin
Program Manager
Save the Dunes

Katherine Moore Powell
Climate Change Ecologist
Field Museum