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Great Lakes Article:

Porter to host congressional hearings in November
ENVIRONMENT: National lakeshore to be topic of first such session in Northwest Indiana
By Brandon Honig
Indiana Northwest Times Washington Bureau
Posted October 26, 2005

WASHINGTON | A U.S. House subcommittee hearing on the national parks of the Great Lakes will be held in Porter next month, near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., said he believes the hearing is the first of its kind to be held in Northwest Indiana.

U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., organized the hearing, set to be held at 9 a.m. on Nov. 14 in the Lakeshore visitors center auditorium.

As chairman of the subcommittee, Souder intends to examine issues surrounding land acquisition as well as challenges faced by natural parks in urban areas.

"Invasive exotic plants" pose one challenge typical to natural parks in urban settings. Plants brought to the park, either intentionally or accidentally, end up competing with native species, robbing them of natural resources and possibly displacing them.

Land acquisition issues exacerbate the problem, according to Tom Anderson of the Save the Dunes Council, because inholdings are frequent sites of exotic plants. Lying like islands within the boundaries of a national park, inholdings are privately owned tracts of land desired by the National Park Service.

The National Park Service cannot enforce initiatives to rid the area of invasive species and revive native ones on the private lands.

The 15,000-acre lakeshore area, which includes the 2,182-acre Indiana Dunes State Park, contains approximately 1,110 acres of land that is held by 133 private owners. Railroads and utilities own 367 acres of parkland, leaving 743 acres that could be actively pursued by the park service.

But federal budget constraints have hindered the National Park Service's ability to acquire inholdings.

"Funding is at a premium, as is a lot of federal funding," said Lakeshore Superintendent Dale Engquist. "So we're competing for dollars for land acquisition."

In May, Congress rescinded $826,500 that had been allocated for acquiring land by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Engquist said the upcoming hearing of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources likely will address the park's progress in acquiring inholdings.

The park service's Midwest Regional Director Ernest Quintana has been tentatively scheduled to testify, according to LaTonya Miller, of the park service.





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