Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Refuge Plans Destruction of Habitats it Created
October 13, 2023
By Steve Grinley
     Those of us who visit the Parker River NWR, or almost any east coast wildlife refuge, know the value of coastal impoundments. These man-made water bodies are contained by embankments and have gates that allow managers to manipulate water levels. They are often drained in the spring to late summer to expose mudflats for migrating shorebirds, and then raised later in fall to provide open water for ducks and other waterbirds through the winter.
     Like many impoundments constructed in the 1940s and 1950s, the impoundments at Parker River NWR were constructed to benefit Black Ducks. Black ducks don’t nest in them as hoped, but hundreds are already present in them this fall season.  Bill Forward & North Pools have been called  “a Gadwall factory” as Gadwall, and also Mallards, do nest. Beautiful Wood Ducks have been recorded frequently in recent years. Hundreds of dabbling ducks can be seen tin these pools on most autumn days.  
     The importance of these habitats to birds is apparent to anyone who has watched thousands of shorebirds roosting and feeding in Bill Forward or Stage Island Pools.  The late day staging of hundreds of Great and Snowy Egrets in the evening sun lures photographers and has visitors in awe.  In August, most of us have witnessed the spectacle of the hundreds of thousands of swallows gathering in the north pool, and filling the air at dusk over the Hellcat dikes.
     Massachusetts’ endangered species seen regularly in the pools are Pied-billed Grebe, American Bitten and Least Bitterns.  Juvenile Least Bitterns have been seen in early summer in North Pool and Stage Island Pool in the past two years confirming nesting. Sora and Virginia rails have nested, and Marsh wrens can be heard in all three pools. A state listed bird of concern, Common Gallinule, has been seen in North Pool for the past few weeks, and many times during the summer. Marsh Wrens can be head singing throughout the spring and summer in all three pools.
     The Parker River NWR has released its draft of its 15 year Habitat Management Plan which includes a “shift in management…266 acres of currently impounded waters…will be restored… to salt water marsh.”  . The result of this plan could mean the loss of many of these birds in the refuge and the experiences that they provide to visitors. The refuge will be destroying the very impoundments that they created, and the birds and spectacles of the present day will be no more.  The plan proposes a breach of Stage Island Pool first, to be followed by Bill Forward Pool and then North Pool, to “restore” the habitat within the impoundments back to saltmarsh.
     The Plan sites the concern of a “catastrophic” breach of these pools in the future, yet they are protected from storm surge by high dunes on the ocean side.  The extensive great marsh provides protection on the other side but climate change and seawater rise threaten the federally endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow, and could, eventually, create possible saltwater spillover into the pools. Their research and biology is sound, and the world is changing around us. But I believe that they miss the human and economical impact of their proposed actions.
     The Habitat Management Plan can be read on the Parker River NWR website (www.fws.gov/refuge). I encourage you to read at least some of the overviews and as much of the detailed and scientific plan as you can. Public comment period ends in 2 weeks, on October 28.  You can direct questions or comments to Refuge Manager Matt Hillman or Biologist Nancy Pau at parkerriver@fws.gov. or call at 978-465-5753.  I encourage you to write to the refuge and to any local or state officials to voice your comments and concerns on this plan.
     The refuge held two public hearings this past Wednesday, but only 10 citizens attended one and only 5 were at the second.  The word obviously did not get out. So tell your friends and neighbors, or anyone who visits the refuge. I hope that the Refuge will plan another information session before the end of the comment period, and will consider everyone’s input.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
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Newburyport, MA 01950

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