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Lake Champlain Marshes BCA Management Guidance Summary

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Site Name: Lake Champlain Marshes Bird Conservation Area

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Department of Environmental Conservation

Location: Clinton County, Towns of Champlain, Beekmantown, and Ausable; Essex County, Towns of Chesterfield and Crown Point; Washington County, Town of Whitehall.

Size of Area: approximately 2,800 acres

DEC Region: 5

General Site Information: This BCA includes 6 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) along the western shore of Lake Champlain (Kings Bay, Montys Bay, Wickham Marsh, Ausable Marsh, Putts Creek, East Bay) from near the Canadian border to the southern tip of the lake. These WMAs all include shoreline wetland complexes. Most include large marshes, forested swamps, and shrub swamps; as well as some upland forests, grasslands, and shrublands. They provide habitat for a wide variety of avian resources, in particular, wetland-dependent species for breeding and during migration. They also provide important migration stopover areas for a tremendous diversity of water and land birds.

Vision Statement: Manage the BCA to conserve the high quality wetlands and the diverse bird species utilizing these areas. Also manage the grasslands, early successional habitats and forests to benefit birds utilizing these areas. Management of the parcels within the Adirondack Park will be limited due to Forest Preserve regulations.

Key BCA Criteria: Waterfowl concentration site; wading bird concentration site, migratory concentration site, diverse species concentration site, individual species concentration site, species at risk site (ECL § 3.a, d, e, f, g, h). Species of interest include: American bittern (special concern), least bittern (threatened), osprey (special concern), upland sandpiper (threatened), great blue heron, green heron, black tern (endangered), northern harrier (threatened), pied-billed grebe (threatened), short-eared owl (endangered), vesper sparrow (special concern), grasshopper sparrow (special concern), bobolink, savannah sparrow, cliff swallow, Wilson's snipe, marsh wren, Virginia rail, Lincoln's sparrow, common goldeneye, black-crowned night heron, winter wren, northern waterthrush, chestnut-sided warbler, Nashville warbler, yellow-throated vireo, and warbling vireo.

Critical Habitat Types: Open water, emergent marsh, forested flood plain, shrub wetlands, forested uplands, shrublands, and grasslands.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    Wickham Marsh, Ausable Marsh, and Putts Creek all lie within the Adirondack Forest Preserve, and the regulations governing these lands will preclude some management recommendations, specifically removal of trees greater than 3 inches dbh, controlled burns, and use of chemicals to control exotic species. The limitations on management actions within the Adirondack Forest Preserve may preclude some of the following recommendations at Forest Preserve sites.

    Growth of invasive exotic species in the marshes (e.g. water chestnut, Phragmites, purple loosestrife) will need to continue to be monitored, and control implemented when needed, and allowed under Forest Preserve regulations.

    Agricultural and road runoff, as well as other alterations of the natural hydrology, will need to be monitored and controlled as needed. Proper hydrologic flow between the marshes and the lake should continue to be maintained or enhanced where appropriate.

    There are pitch pine­heath barrens at Ausable Marsh and pitch pine­oak forest at Wickham Marsh. These ecological communities are fire dependent. A management plan that includes controlled fire is needed to manage and perpetuate these rare communities. However, Forest Preserve regulations will preclude such management.

    Existing open areas and grasslands areas need to be managed to be kept as open grasslands. This is especially critical at Montys Bay and Wickham Marsh which have significant grassland areas. Utilization of these areas by a variety of rare grassland birds could be greatly enhanced by a proper management plan that incorporates mowing, or other habitat manipulations designed to keep these areas as open grasslands. A variety of techniques could be used to provide a diversity of grassland types that would attract species with varying preferences. Restoring some of the areas to native warm season grasses would add diversity, and may enhance avian use of some areas.

    Existing areas of shrub/early successional habitats should be maintained or enhanced where possible. If left alone these areas will revert to mature forests and species that rely on these habitats will be lost. Forest Preserve regulations may limit the ability to accomplish early successional habitat management on Forest Preserve lands.

  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Many marsh nesting species are sensitive to water level fluctuations and wave action during the nesting season. To the extent practical, water level fluctuations and wave action (due to human activity) should be minimized.

    Mowing or other manipulations of grasslands should occur outside the nesting season (April 15 to July 31). If done during winter, care should be taken to avoid areas used by wintering short-eared owls.

    Mechanical, labor intensive, or chemical control of invasive exotic plants should occur after the nesting season (after July 31).

  • Identify state activities or operations which may pose a threat to the critical habitat types identified above; recommend alternatives to existing and future operations which may pose threats to those habitats.
    Mowing of grassland areas needs to occur after the nesting season. Consideration should be given to restoring some of these areas to native grasslands, rather than the existing agricultural use. This is especially critical at Montys Bay and Wickham Marsh. The current Cooperative Agreement at Montys Bay expires in 2006. When that agreement is up consideration will be given to managing the grassland areas for grassland species.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    Many species of marsh nesting and grassland nesting birds are susceptible to disturbance. Access to nesting areas needs to be monitored and limited when needed to ensure nesting success. Access to fields where short-eared owls are winter roosting needs to be limited.

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Access to Ausable Marsh is via a right-of-way (ROW) owned by the D&H Railroad for which an annual rental fee is paid. The water control structure responsible for much of the freshwater wetland acreage within Wickham Marsh is also on the D&H Railroad ROW.

    In general, access is adequate, and may need to be reduced in specific instances (described above). No problems with continuing the current access agreements with D&H Railroad are anticipated.

  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Educational signs, an accessible boardwalk and a viewing platform are in place at Ausable Marsh.

    An education/outreach program that explains the importance of wetlands, and the birds that rely on them is needed. Also, a program that explains the decline in grassland and early successional species, and how to help enhance their numbers and nesting success is needed at sites where grasslands exist. Kiosks should be provided at one or more sites that discuss diversity, marshland birds, grassland birds, early successional species.

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Inventory and potentially monitoring of grassland bird species is needed where habitat is present. Likewise, marsh bird inventory (and monitoring for some species), especially for black terns and the difficult to observe least bittern and rail species is needed. Forested wetland tracks also need to be inventoried for red-headed woodpecker and cerulean warbler.

DEC Region 5 Wildlife Manager: 518-897-1291

New York Natural Heritage Program. 1993-1997. Biodiversity Inventory Reports for: Wickham Marsh, Kings Bay, Ausable Marsh, Montys Bay, Putts Creek, and East Bay Wildlife Management Areas. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

Wells, J. V. 1998. Important Bird Areas in New York State. National Audubon Society, Albany, New York.

Date BCA Designated: 3/09/02

Date MGS Prepared: 3/26/02

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