Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Refuge Releases Final Plan to Destroy Fresh Water Impoundments
March 08, 2024
By Steve Grinley
     The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge released the final version of their Habitat Management Plan on Tuesday, Feb 20, on their website and as a press release.  That was a sad day for birds and birders. 
     “After reviewing comments received and further consultation with experts and partner organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a Finding of No Significant Impact in implementing the proposed alternative outlined in the draft Habitat Management Plan (HMP) and Fire Management Plan (FMP) for Parker River and Thatcher Island National Wildlife Refuges.” No impact? Really?
     Instead of maintaining the Refuge-built impoundment fresh water pools and replacing the aging water gates, they find it easier to breach the dikes.  The Refuge final plan starts with breaching the Stage Island dike which is the least like to be breached by Mother Nature. Breaching the Stage Island impoundment will only accelerate the chance that the water will cover the road, cut off Lot 7 and halt access to Sandy Point.  
     Instead of using tax-payer dollars to restore the hundreds of acres of salt marsh that still needs restoration for the beloved salt marsh sparrow, they want us to fund their experiment of restoring a fresh water pool, created by their predecessors, back to salt marsh.  Why?  Salt marsh sparrows are not nesting below the Maintenance area.  Fix the hundreds of acres of marsh between there and Cross Farm Hill instead of trying to create new marsh for one species ,and for maybe the black rail that has NEVER nested on the refuge and a bird that I have heard ONCE on the refuge in sixty years!
     Their first “public sessions” were poorly publicized and embarrassingly under-attended. They were followed up with a better publicized zoom meeting that had 140 attendees where no response to their pre-scripted answers to questions, could be expressed. 
     The refuge says there were 145 written comments received. Their planned, scripted responses to these concerns were again presented, resulting in their “No Significant Impact” decision. They claim that the detailed summary of comments and responses is included in Appendix A of the final Environmental Assessment. However, that is now well buried on their website if you go looking for it.  
     It’s abhorrent that the refuge wasn’t required to do an Environment Impact Study, especially by the Mass Fish & Wildlife, regarding its Plan’s impact on the state endangered Least Bittern and other birds whose habitat would be destroyed by this plan. If a developer proposed this destruction of this fresh water habitat, the state would be all over them!
     Needless to say, the decision sparked comments on the local birder’s social media:
     One birder stated: “As expected, the outcome to blithely and recklessly destroy the largest shorebird staging and foraging sites north of Cape Cod was completely predetermined and the public comment period was merely for show.“
     Another local birder stated: “I always felt the only reason they were asking people to send in their concerns and questions prior to any zoom meeting was to make sure they were able to have their stock answers ready.  There were never opportunities for rebuttal to any of their answers. They never had any intention of taking into consideration the research from any opposing viewpoint.“
     Still, another birder: “Nancy Pau and management are asserting that the impoundments are in such danger of being breached … that we must ourselves breach the dikes! How does this make any sense? Destroy the village to save the village?“
     The refuge announcement did make news in a number of local news outlets, but they just quoted the Refuge’s preplanned answers that the press release provided. It made front-page news in this newspaper but it was slanted to be about the Pink House. There seems to be more support and readership for a deteriorating pink house, though it is understandable for the icon that it is. Unfortunately, it is likely destined for the same pre-determined fate as the fresh water impoundments that our forefathers built for birds and for us.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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