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Focus 2014

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At a glance
Name: Amy Silva
Title and employer: Executive director of nonprofit Little River Wetlands Project
Education and professional experience: Texas A&M; superintendent of Allen County parks and recreation; founding board member of NIPSCO Environmental Challenge Fund
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Amy Silva, executive director of the Little River Wetlands Project, has a passion for preserving wetlands.

On a mission for conservation

Little River director finds new career a rewarding challenge

– Amy Silva did it all.

But growing up in Fort Wayne, she never dreamed of spotting a bald eagle.

Now, it’s an almost daily occurrence for her. The right habitat – and the right job – make all the difference.

As executive director of the Little River Wetlands Project, Silva spent this spring monitoring the pair of bald eagles that nested on the outskirts of aptly named Eagle Marsh, on 716 acres in the southwest part of town.

It’s not her favorite bird – that would be the blue heron – but it’s a reminder of what makes coming to work so much fun: the mission of conservation.

“Knowing we have habitat that bald eagles are interested in, a spot where endangered species can live and hopefully reproduce to keep that species alive,” Silva says.

She left the business world in September 2013 to head up the environmental nonprofit and has since found the work everything she hoped it would be – and more.

It’s not only an outlet for her passion of preserving wetland environments, but a platform from which she can help others have new experiences, as she did with America’s national symbol.

When Eagle Marsh hosted the Indiana Academy of Science’s BioBlitz three weeks ago, one of the findings was a pair of Blanding’s turtles, a species endangered in Indiana.

Silva is leading the Little River Wetlands Project at a pivotal time in its history when the local ecosystem can continue to expand and evolve.

In 2005, in conjunction with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the project acquired land that was still being farmed and drained.

It was certainly not a marsh and definitely not a home to bald eagles.

“What you see today is just nine years of restoration,” Silva says. “That’s amazing. You see the difference. Imagine it as either corn or soybean fields versus now the diverse range of species we have.”

Hard to believe that Fort Wayne, all built up and full of hustle and bustle, could house this, especially when more than 85 percent of Indiana’s former wetlands have disappeared.

“A lot of people don’t know that we even exist,” Silva says. “To have this large of a wetland next to an urban setting is really rather unique, especially having 716 acres.”

Actually, Silva manages a little more than that. The project owns two additional properties – Arrowhead Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie – that total 156 acres, and it co-owns 53 acres in Huntington where the Little River joins the Wabash.

Silva refers to her first nine months in charge of it all as “fabulous” and marked by “incredible progress.”

In February, she added a new full-time employee to handle office administration, and this summer, she is creating a wine event. “Wine in the Wetlands,” with tasting and music, will debut Aug. 1.

Day-to-day operations aren’t all that different from the 13 years Silva spent in charge of the Allen County Parks and Recreation Department.

What’s new to her? The fundraising, of course.

“That’s the biggest challenge, is not having that assurance, ‘Every year you’re going to get X-amount of money,’ ” Silva said.

But just as she appreciates all kinds of species, interacting with a diverse group of people is natural to Silva.

“I don’t feel pressure because it’s just a part of the position,” she said. “I’m always looking to make those connections or (feel) the excitement we get when we’re awarded a new avenue of funding that can help continue those goals and projects.”

The biggest is a multimillion-dollar plan to keep Asian carp out of the St. Marys River, which would allow them a path to Lake Erie. The fish are an extremely destructive foreign species currently confined to the Mississippi River waterways.

Silva hopes to break ground this fall on a two-month reconfiguration of the continental divide that runs through Eagle Marsh so that there is no possibility of flooding pushing the carp across into a new watershed.

It all comes back to that ethos of conservation.

On her desk, Silva has wooden blocks inscribed with the words “Peaceful” and “Serene.” She believes wetlands, when maintained in their natural state, can create those kinds of feelings.

“I’ve had folks ask me, ‘Why is this interesting to you? I just don’t get it,’ ” Silva said. “My answer to that is, ‘Do you enjoy seeing that wide variety of birds?’ You don’t have to get into the nuts and bolts or all wet and muddy to appreciate it. You just have to find something interesting you wouldn’t expect.”

cgoff@jg.net

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