The wild turkey is native to North America, but suffered severe declines due to wide-scale forest clearing and over hunting. By the mid-1800’s, this great bird was gone from New York state and much of the northeast. However, in the mid to late 1940’s, some wild turkeys were observed along the NY and PA border from Allegany State Park to the Genesee River Valley, a sign that the habitat might be recovering and able to support them again. So, in the early 1950’s, the New York State Conservation Department (forerunner to the NYS Dept. of Conservation) began a restoration effort in the early 1950s. They started with game farm turkeys, but after a few years, this effort failed because the game farm birds were not wild enough to avoid predation and lacked the capacity to survive.
Meanwhile, a healthy breeding population of wild turkeys expanded from Pennsylvania into the Allegany State Park region of New York. Park managers then gave the Conservation Department permission to trap turkeys in the park, initiating the wild turkey trap and transfer program which began in 1958 and concluded successfully in 1974. This program allowed for more rapid expansion of the turkey population to suitable unoccupied habitats.
The turkeys trapped in Allegany State Park were moved to several areas in the Region and then throughout the state. In addition to the in-state trap and transfer, turkeys from the park were also sent to Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. Other trapping efforts in the region and elsewhere in New York sent birds to Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and the Canadian Province of Ontario. New York turkeys helped re-establish populations throughout the Northeast, Midwest and southeastern Canada.
Nets ready to trap a flock of turkeys.
Turkeys caught in a net.
Conservation Department staff and local volunteers place the turkeys into boxes. Afterwards, the birds were moved to their new homes.
New York State Conservation Department was one of the pioneers among state agencies to restore wild turkey populations in the United States. This program would not have been successful without the cooperation of Allegany State Park and to this day is recognized as one of the greatest wildlife management success stories of North America.
Iona Island, located along an elbow of the Hudson River in Bear Mountain State Park, is technically an archipelago of three islands connected by marshlands. Iona has had many owners in its storied history, prior to being bought by New York State in the 1960s. The Island was host to Native American tribes for thousands of years, who took advantage of the plentiful shellfish along its shores. In the last few hundred years, it has been the site of an unsuccessful vineyard, a hotel and weekend destination for NYC residents, a U.S. Navy arsenal, and a partially built park recreation area. The eastern side of the island past the railroad tracks has been closed to the public since the 1980s, but a small portion of the island consisting of the five remaining Navy buildings is used for storage for the Palisades Interstate Park system. The rest of the island has returned to a more natural state of woods, meadows, and rocky outcroppings and serves as a sanctuary for wintering bald eagles. The island achieved National Natural Landmark status in 1974, and was designated a NYS Bird Conservation Area and Audubon Important Bird Area shortly thereafter.
A key natural feature at Iona is the extensive marshlands, 153 acres in all, flanking its western side. Part of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve (HRNERR), this brackish tidal marsh (marshes with water that has different concentrations of salt depending on the tides) teams with life including fish, waterfowl, waterbirds, plants, and crustaceans. In recent times, the rich biodiversity of the marsh, including a number of state rare species, has been threatened by Phragmites australis, or as it is more widely known, common reed.
Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a plant that was likely brought to the US from Europe and Asia in the 1800s through ship ballast or the water taken in by ships to allow them to balance on long voyages. Commonly referred to as just Phragmites, this non-native plant is invasive in the U.S., displacing and crowding out native plant species, such as cattails, rushes, asters, and many others. In turn, the presence of this species has undermined the complex web of marsh dependent organisms.
The non-native Phragmites is identifiable by its tall stature, dark blue-green leaves, and tendency to form dense stands, with little to no possibility for native species to grow in the areas that they occupy. A native species of phragmites (Phragmites americanus) occurs in NY as well, but this smaller plant with reddish stems grows with less density so it does not crowd out other flora.
The phragmites problem at Iona Marsh began in the early 1960s, when the first small colony appeared near a pipe draining into the marsh. Over the next 40 years, phragmites steadily expanded until it covered nearly 80 percent of the marsh area. Researchers tracking these changes noted a concurrent decline in marsh specialist birds and specialized brackish marsh plants, including state rarities. In an effort to reverse these trends, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, while partnering with Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Highlands Environmental Research Institute, started a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) funded management program in 2008 focused on a 10-acre test area. The goal was to reduce the invasive phragmites, and make room for native plants to once again occupy the area. If the program was successful in this small area (1/15th of the marsh), it could be expanded to additional marshlands.
A multi-faceted control and monitoring program has been developed and implemented and the results have been dramatic. More than 90% of the phragmites was eliminated within one year and nearly 97% by the third year. Researchers saw the return of huge meadows of annual native marsh plants, including some state-threatened species, followed by perennial cattail stands. Marsh specialist birds such as Virginia rail, least bittern (State-threatened), and marsh wren followed soon thereafter. Based on this success, the project was expanded to an adjacent 32-acre area of the marsh known as Ring Meadow. Both areas now have less than five percent Phragmites cover, an overall success on the journey to reestablish native vegetation.
While complete eradication of the Phragmites may be impossible to achieve, success can be maintained through continued monitoring and spot treating remaining and new patches. Bird and vegetation surveys are conducted annually, as are measurements of sediment build-up on the marsh surface, as it relates to sea level rise. The goal remains to restore the native plant communities in the marsh to promote biodiversity. A healthy, native marsh community will lead to increased productivity and habitats for fish, birds, and mammals – many of them specially adapted to the brackish conditions at Iona. With continued management, the long-term outlook is positive for this Hudson River jewel, one of only four large brackish marshes on the Hudson.
Interested in seeing Iona Marsh for yourself? While public canoeing and kayaking are not allowed in the marsh itself to protect this unique place, through collaboration with the State Parks, NYS DEC offers free public canoe programs each summer. Not a fan of getting on the water? Iona Island is accessible by road. There is a parking lot approximately ½ mile onto the island, right before the railroad tracks (the boundary of the public accessible areas), where you can park and view the marsh. Lucky visitors may spot waterfowl, muskrats, frogs, turtles, wetland birds, deer, or even bald eagles!
Photo credit: PIPC Archives
Dr. Ed McGowan, 2017 Annual Report Iona Island Marsh
In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit New York, causing severe damage on the Atlantic and Long Island coasts. The strength of the storm highlighted the importance of storm readiness. In one park on Long Island, the storm also brought an opportunity for habitat restoration.
Sunken Meadow State Park is located on the north shore of Long Island, and contains the Sunken Meadow Creek, which flows into the Long Island Sound. The park is over 1,000 acres and includes important coastal habitats including coastal forest, low salt marsh, marine eelgrass, tidal creek, and maritime dunes.
When Sandy struck, it destroyed a berm (a wall made of earth) that State Parks constructed in the 1950s. Ever since it was built, the culverts through the berm were inadequate and greatly reduced tidal flow to Sunken Meadow Creek, decreasing the quality of the habitat upstream. Rather than rebuild the berm, a plan was set in motion to restore the tidal marshland by replacing the berm with a bridge and planting saltmarsh species.
Even before Sandy struck, many partners had joined with State Parks to restore the habitat, including NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Save the Sound, Long Island Sound Study, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Restore America’s Estuaries, Sea Grant New York, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Louis Berger Group. The New York Natural Heritage Program provided valuable information to help guide the restoration. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided the funding.
With the removal of the berm came the return of tidal flow (a range of 2-3 feet per tidal cycle), and the gradual natural restoration of 135 acres of tidal creek and salt marsh habitat. Common reed (Phragmites australis) – an invasive plant with low tolerance for salt – had been a problem upstream of the berm, but the return of salty water cleared away much of this undesirable species. Once the common reed was gone, a three-acre area of mudflats was exposed, which the partners identified as an ideal location for marsh restoration work.
The partners and volunteers teamed up to plant the mudflats with smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). Thanks to the roots of this native saltmarsh species, this section of the creek is now more resilient in the face of erosion and flooding that storms can bring. (Want to see how plants slow down erosion? Try this fun home experiment!) The restoration will also improve habitat for fish, macro-invertebrates (like fiddler crabs), and birds, providing them with space to forage and reproduce.
The site continues to be monitored for the success of the plants. State Parks staff will also observe changes in the marsh elevation using Surface Elevation Table monitoring stations (SETs), which were installed in the restoration site and a control site downstream. The elevation of the marsh surface may change in the future as mud is washed up and sea level rises. To learn more about SETs and how they are used, click here.
To learn more about the tidal creek and salt marsh habitat at Sunken Meadow State Park, check out some of our educational programs! NYS Parks works with local schools to engage students in citizen-scientist projects. A seasonal intern leads nature walks and uses the mobile touch tank to share the tidal world with park patrons. Sunken Meadow also participates in the “A Day in the Life of the Nissequogue River” program, which you can learn more about here.
To find out more about programs available at Sunken Meadow State Park, check the calendar.
Post by Juliana Quant, State Parks
Connecticut Fund for the Environment, 2013. Sunken Meadow Comprehensive Resilience and Restoration Plan. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants. EasyGrantsIS: 42442.
NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog has a blog post up on the great work that New York State Parks is doing in Long Island parks to clean up Sandy debris. The featured image is post-storm damage at Jones Beach State Park, by NYS Parks.
The NYS Bird Conservation Area Program (BCA) deems certain areas as especially worth protecting due to their importance as a habitat for one or more species. In general, a site is nominated because of its importance to large numbers of waterfowl, pelagic seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds, migratory birds, or because of high species diversity, importance to species at risk, or its importance as a bird research site. The Green Lakes BCA is located within Green Lakes State Park. Green Lakes is about 5 miles East of Syracuse and is bordered on the north by portions of the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. The park offers an eighteen hole golf course, camping, biking, hiking, swimming, and cross-country skiing.
The Green lakes BCA is an important habitat for migratory bird species and it is a diverse species concentration site, meaning that many different kinds of birds use this habitat to nest, feed, and shelter. In particular, this BCA is unique because it contains significant tracts of both mature forest and grassland habitat, providing habitat for an unusually diverse suite of bird species. Grassland habitat, and the birds that depend on that habitat, have been declining throughout the northeastern U.S. The grasslands within Green lakes BCA represent the largest concentration of grassland habitat in the New York State Park system. This makes it a perfect shelter for grassland-breeding species including Northern Harrier (threatened), Bobolink, and Grasshopper Sparrow (special concern). In addition, the BCA contains a relatively large tract of interior forest, including old-growth forest, which provides important breeding habitat for mature forest birds, such as Ovenbird, eastern wood-pewee and wood thrush. Finally, the meromictic lakes, from which the BCA takes its name, provide stopover and foraging sites for many birds dependent upon open water, including Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Wood Duck.
The Green Lakes BCA is also in need of conservation. In the western portion of the Green Lakes State Park, the BCA’s important grassland habitat is currently undergoing succession, with shrubs and trees gradually becoming established within these fields. The majority of these woody plants are non-native invasive species. Continued establishment of woody plants will eliminate habitat for grassland-dependent bird species, many of which are state-listed. For this reason, NYS Parks has developed a grassland management plan to protect and conserve this important bird habitat.
The management plan calls for:
Removal of woody vegetation from critical fields, and maintaining these fields as grassland bird habitat through regular mowing (every two to three years).
Selective removal of hedgerows, which fragment the grasslands and provide travel corridors for nest predators such as raccoons
Removal of invasive species, such as Pale Swallow-wort. These non-native species have the potential to significantly transform the current habitat within the BCA, and reduce habitat quality for a wide range of birds.
Reducing the deer population. The deer population within the BCA is currently impacting the survival and regeneration of native vegetation, particularly within forested habitats.