Tag Archives: Restoration

Marsh Madness: Restoration of Iona Marsh from Invasive Phragmites

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.

Pre20018 Iona
Iona Island Marsh in 2008 before treatment. Phragmites dominate the background.

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.

2017 Image
Map of the Iona Island Marsh Treatment Areas

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.

RingMeadow
Ring Meadow in 2016. Cattail and blooming Rose Mallow have regrown where phragmites once were.

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

Post by Jesse Predmore, SCA

Edited by: Dr. Ed McGowan & Chris O’Sullivan

Featured image: lulun & kame accessed from Flickr

Weathering the Storm by Restoring a Native Grass

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.

Sunken Meadow Creek after Sandy with photo credits
The remnants of the berm in Sunken Meadow Creek after its destruction by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

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.

Mudflats 2013 with photo credits
xposed mudflats in 2013, one year after Superstorm Sandy, looking toward the pedestrian bridge.

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.

Mudflats 2017_with photo credit
View of mudflats looking toward bridge in 2017, two years after restoration planting of smooth cordgrass. You can see the remnants of the fencing put up to protect the young grass plants from being eaten by geese – these posts will be removed in the coming months.

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.

DEC staffers with photo credit

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

Sources

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.

Hurricane Sandy

More details on the Sunken Meadow State Park restoration project from Save the Sound

Grassland Conservation at Green Lakes State Park

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.

Bobolink, photo by NYS Parks
Bobolink, photo by NYS Parks

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.

For more information:

New York State Breeding Bird Atlas 2000, Maps and Species Lists 

OPRHP 2010, Green Lakes State Park Master Plan 

NYS Parks Bird Conservation Areas

The featured photo is the Green Lakes Bird Conservation Area at Green Lakes State Park. Photo by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.

NYS Parks Wins Great Lakes Grant

GLRI

On February 25th, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the winners of 11 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants totaling more than $5 million for projects to combat invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.

The GLRI is a task force of 11 federal agencies targeting pollution, habitat restoration, invasive species, and establishing partnerships between agencies. Since 2010, the EPA has awarded more than 70 projects totaling over $40 million to combat terrestrial and aquatic invasives and to prevent the introduction of new invasive species.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is honored to receive a $410,000 grant to establish a new boat stewardship and invasive species prevention program which will also create 17 new jobs while educating tens of thousands of boaters.

The boat steward program will be an education based initiative to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives in the Great Lakes watershed. Over the 18 month grant period, NYS Parks will send boat stewards to 15 previously unmonitored boat launches and marinas along the Lake Erie shoreline, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. The boat stewards will perform boat inspections while educating the public on the impacts of aquatic invasives and the methods for their management and control. Stewards will also participate in team projects as a CORPS to implement rapid response measures to reduce already established populations of aquatic invasives.

At NYS Parks, we have the unique opportunity to manage and protect a large geographic area of the Great Lakes watershed and fill in the gaps not currently covered by other states or groups. This project will complement and support boat stewardship programs already established in New York State, including Paul Smith’s College, the Finger Lakes Institute, and New York Sea Grant. By building upon these successful programs, we will be spreading a standardized message all across the state that patrons should “Clean, Drain, Dry” their boats.

Check out the other award winners at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

For more information on boating, visit the NYS Parks Marine Services site.