Four times a year, more than 25 professionals in fields as diverse as farming and pharmaceuticals gather to discuss a common interest. As members of the Indiana Biodiversity Intitiative''s (IBI) Steering Committee, these scientists, business leaders, government officials, and private citizens direct a statewide effort to conserve Indiana''s biodiversity.

Essentially, biodiversity is an umbrella term that describes an area''s living organisms, including their genetic differences, their natural communities, and the evolutionary and ecological processes that sustain them. The IBI was founded in 1996 with the aim of conserving and protecting Indiana''s biodiversity, educating the public, and fostering communication among the many agencies and individuals concerned with biodiversity in Indiana.

Historically, Indiana was a surprisingly biodiverse region, including habitats as distinct as the Great Lakes, the central hardwood forest, and the Grand Kankakee Marsh. Although many species and landscapes are threatened today by habitat loss, pollution, or invasive species like the zebra mussels now overrunning the Ohio River, the state remains a rich repository of life.

True, we are not likely to recapture a large amount of the raw Indiana of pre-settlement times, nor do many think we should. However, wherever possible, conservation groups are trying to protect and restore existing or potential pockets of biodiversity, and the IBI helps to unify the process. These efforts are necessarily conducted in the context of today''s society, which places many demands on the state''s natural resources for food production, living space, industry, and recreation. These multi-layered needs are one reason why diversity within the IBI itself is so important.

Even more than its scientific and administrative efforts, the IBI considers its educational mission the best hope for protecting Indiana''s biodiversity. Because only 3 percent of the state is publicly owned for the purpose of conservation, Indiana''s species and habitats depend on the interest of private and corporate landowners in their well-being.

As U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Forest Clark explains, "There are lots of threats [to biodiversity] out there, but the biggest one is that not enough people know or care about the diversity we have here. It''s a wonderful place, and we can do anything if enough people believe that it''s important. It''s not too late."