U.S. FWS releases Final Habitat Management Plan for Local National Wildlife Refuges

Tuesday February 27, 2024

U.S. FWS releases Final Habitat Management Plan for Local National Wildlife Refuges
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released the Final Habitat Management Plan (HMP) and Fire Management Plan (FMP), and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Environmental Assessment (EA) for Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and Thacher Island National Wildlife Refuge in Rockport, Massachusetts.
The draft plans were released for a 30-day public comment period in October of 2023. 140 people attended three informational sessions, and 145 people submitted comments in writing. Of these, 107 opposed breaching of the Refuge’s three impoundments and 13 people expressed support for the plan. The Service proposes proactively restoring tidal flow to the three impoundments in response to deteriorating habitat conditions and increasing risk of storm breach.
Service staff organized and considered all comments received and consulted experts and partners in re-assessing components of the decision. The final HMP and FMP was updated accordingly to provide more details and clarifications for decommissioning impoundments, adding more in-depth analysis to the EA to address questions about socioeconomic impacts and impacts of prescribed fire; as well as impacts to bird use and bird watching opportunities. A summary of comments received, and responses are included in Appendix A of the Environmental Assessment.
“It is clear that many people care deeply about the Refuge and its wildlife and habitats and are deeply invested in this decision. We appreciate the perspectives and additional information they provided during the comment period. Ultimately, the decision of how to manage the impoundments came down to risk and ensuring that these areas will be healthy and functioning in the next 100 years” said Matt Hillman, Refuge Manager.
Many who opposed the breaching of the impoundments expressed concerns about a decrease in bird use and birdwatching opportunities. “I want to reassure visitors that the shorebirds, waterfowl, and some rails and bitterns will continue to use the Stage Island estuary after tidal restoration. Many birders were similarly concerned about birds losing habitat when we reconnected tidal flow to the Salt Pannes; but that project brought back shorebirds that had disappeared for over a decade,” said Nancy Pau, Wildlife Biologist. “To address concerns raised, we will be monitoring bird use before and after the tidal restoration, and welcome collaboration with the birding community to document the shifts in bird use.”
The final HMP will protect migratory birds and other resources through the implementation of several strategies, including prescribed fire, that maintain and restore the ability and resiliency of wildlife and habitats to adapt to climate change and other stressors. Tidal restoration to the three Refuge impoundments will be phased over the next 15 years, starting with the Stage Island impoundment. Timing for decommissioning the Stage Island impoundment will depend on securing funding and permits, which is expected to take a few years. Decommissioning of North Pool and Bill Forward Pool is not expected for at least another 10 years; this delay allows us to further monitor the climate vulnerability of the remaining impoundments and apply the adaptive learning from the Stage Island project to optimize restoration success.
In the context of rapidly changing climate conditions, restoring functioning habitats and healthy and robust wildlife populations will ensure that both wildlife and habitats can adapt and change to future stressors. The final HMP and FMP restores the ecological integrity and function of Parker River and Thacher Island’s habitat to ensure that they will be resilient and provide high-quality wildlife habitat for the next 100 years and beyond.
The FONSI, HMP, FMP, and EA can be found on the Refuge website at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/parker-river, along with frequently asked questions. Hard copies of the document with changes highlighted are available at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Refuge Visitor Center at 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport, MA.

Support Local Businesses

Priced Right Junk Removal

Local Forecast

Subscribe To Receive Our Newspaper Every Wednesday Morning FREE

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and newspaper within your emails.

You have Successfully Subscribed!