Saugatuck River Wildlife Restoration Project
Invasive Phragmites australis
To restore native plants, species and enhance wildlife habitat and diversity in the 3.2 acre Taylortown Salt Marsh preserve owned by the Aspetuck Land Trust on the Saugatuck River. Over a four year period beginning in 2014, the work removing Phragmites australis, a fast growing, non-native wetland reed, will expand to include an additional 9.2 acres of waterfront wetland along Westport’s Saugatuck River estuary and Lees Canal. The total project will cost $60,000.
While the familiar, tall, grassy plant looks innocent enough, infestation in the Saugatuck River watershed of Phragmites australis, a federally recognized invasive plant species, has resulted over time in the loss of a biologically–rich tidal marsh. The dense growth of the tall reeds blocks sunlight from reaching marsh soil preventing germination of seeds of important native plants. It also produces a chemical in its roots that stops native plants from growing. Overtaken by Phragmites, the area is deprived of a healthy mix of cattails, grasses, sedges and other plants. As a result it is an unsuitable habitat for many native marsh birds and other animals. Fortunately, since 1997 the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has conducted a highly successful, innovative program of marsh restoration. Environmental scientists in the Wetlands Habitat and Mosquito Management Program (WHAMM) use satellite imaging and other technologies to monitor the vigorous return of native species of plants and animals. Based on similar DEEP led efforts elsewhere in Connecticut, after a three year period, the restored Saugatuck River estuary habitat will see an increase in egrets, snipe, rails, woodcock, muskrats, river otter, owls and many other species.
The 3-year process to remove a patch of Phragmites starts with mowing of the marsh area by a state-licensed contractor in the winter. In summer, a CT DEEP approved invasive plant control agent is applied by state-licensed personnel. This process is repeated annually for two more years. The young Phragmites plants absorb the federally approved and registered herbicide (shown to be nontoxic to humans and wildlife) down to their extensive root system. After the plant dies it is cut again and mulched during the winter and early spring with special machinery. This process opens the marsh surface to light so that the seeds of native plants stored in the soil can return and the marsh community can thrive. The CT DEEP supervised process has worked successfully in Westport in two areas: the Bermuda Road salt marsh and the Allen salt marsh in Sherwood Mill Pond off Grove Point Road. The CT DEEP program has also been successfully used to end Phragmites infestation in Connecticut Audubon Society properties in Ashford and Sharon among many other places. This method has been used effectively by Oyster fisherman in Willapa Bay in Washington state to control invasive, non-native spartina in their oyster beds.
The invasive plant removal effort has been reviewed and approved by local environmental organizations including Aspetuck Land Trust, Connecticut DEEP, Save the Sound, Earthplace, Connecticut Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy and the Westport Conservation Commission.
Grants totaling $15,000 to cover the $60,000 cost to remove the remaining 9.2 acres of Phragmites have been committed by the Jeniam Foundation.
To support this project send your donation to: Aspetuck Land Trust, Save the Salt Marsh Fund, P.O. Box 444, Westport, CT 06881-0444.
For more information:
Phragmites Field Guide: by Jill Swearingen and Kristin Saltonstall; Plant Conservation Alliance’s Weeds Gone (http://www.nps.gov/plant/alien/pubs/index.htm); “Brackish Tidal Marshes of the Connecticut River Estuary,” Connecticut Audubon Society News-Spring 2009
This public information document was prepared by the Aspetuck Land Trust, the owner of the Taylortown Salt Marsh Preserve. It has been reviewed by representatives of the Town of Westport Conservation Commission and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection which is ALSO providing financial support for the Saugatuck River Wildlife Restoration Project.
Mowing in April 2013
Click here to view an aerial map of the Westport Salt Marsh Restoration Project showing the location of Invasive Phragmites.