Volunteers Work to Preserve Pennsylvania Wetlands

Volunteers Work to Preserve Pennsylvania Wetlands

By: Susan A. Smith

Each spring, volunteers from the Presque Isle Audubon Society in Erie, PA slog through wetlands, bogs, fens, vernal ponds, marshlands, swamps and quagmire at the David M. Roderick Wildlife Reserve on the northern border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Arriving at 5am with heavy, waterproof boots, insect repellent, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and binoculars, these Audubon grassroots volunteers set up scientific point counts for long-term monitoring of the Roderick Reserve through Audubon’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) program.

Roderick was selected as an area of critical importance to the welfare of bird species suffering population declines. An IBA designation can help generate the impetus needed to protect threatened bird habitats, or it can result in enhanced management for an already protected site. Nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s threatened or endangered species use wetland habitats at some point in their lives. Sixty-five percent of the birds on Pennsylvania’s list of endangered species or species of special concern are wetland birds. Volunteer efforts provide scientists and wildlife agencies data so they can create a quality habitat for rare or endangered species.

The spring of 2003 presented many boot challenging days and the sounds of aquatic insects, amphibians and wetland birds in the rain swollen Roderick acreage as the volunteers collected important data to understand species distribution, abundance, and changes in site avian community composition.

The IBA wetland and habitat survey remains applicable across seasons, is not rigid in its application, yet still remains robust in its ability to document gross changes in bird abundance and composition over time. Dedicated volunteers able to identify birds by sight and call are imperative to the success of monitoring wetland birds such as herons, bitterns, waterfowl, and songbirds. In Pennsylvania, about 49% of mammals, 60% of birds, 59% of reptiles, and 100% of amphibians are dependent on wetlands, streams and riparian zones at least partially (Brooks and Croonquist 1990).

The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) owns and protects the Roderick Reserve, a 1,131-acre tract of seasonal wetlands, two miles of undeveloped lake bluffs, open fields and pastures, and surrounding forest located on the southern shore of Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. Acquired from USX Corporation, Roderick contains the longest, uninhabited stretch of scenic bluffs remaining on the southern Lake Erie shoreline. It is a major stopover for migrating woodcock and waterfowl, and habitat for an abundance of native birds and mammals. The wetlands support a variety of native aquatic plants and insects and amphibians such as wood frogs and spotted salamanders.

The PGC land management program at Roderick has the support of conservation groups as diverse as the Audubon Pennsylvania, the Ruffed Grouse Society, Ducks Unlimited, the Northwest Pennsylvania Duck Hunters and the National Wild Turkey Federation who have a keen interest in the wetland habitat which makes up 49% of Roderick and maintaining a healthy biodiversity.

Data collected by the Audubon volunteers is shared with wildlife managers to preserve and protect the state’s wetlands and to be used for educational outreach programs. The dedicated Roderick volunteers and partners realize that protecting wetlands results in a multitude of benefits including flood and storm protection, erosion and sedimentation control, water quality maintenance and improvement, groundwater recharge and discharge, fish and wildlife habitat and food, nutrient production and cycling, preserved open space and recreation, and increased education, research, and biological diversity.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.