Enhancing Blind Bay - A Project for our Local Fisheries & Wildlife

By: Jake Tibbles

Volume 16, Issue 9, September 2021

This past winter, Ducks Unlimited, the Chippewa Point Road Association, and Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) partnered to deliver another wetland restoration project along the St. Lawrence River. The restoration efforts in the Blind Bay Wetlands mirrors the work TILT has completed in partnership with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on the Barnett Marsh Property, Wellesley Island, and the Crooked Creek Preserve, Goose Bay. The project was funded by a federal grant, North American Wetland Conservation Act Grant, and matching funds from over 20 local partners.

Prior to restoration, invasive hybrid cattails overwhelmed the marshes between Sand Bay and Blind Bay at the northern tip of Chippewa Bay.

The Blind Bay Wetlands Complex is a coastal marsh, connecting Blind Bay and Sand Bay at the northern tip of Chippewa Bay; the largest coastal shallow water ecosystem in St. Lawrence County and designated by the state as a significant coastal fish and wildlife habitat. In addition to being known for its highly productive fisheries, Chippewa Bay is used by high concentrations of waterfowl, including mallard, blue-winged teal, American black duck, gadwall, redhead, scaup, and canvasback for feeding and resting during spring and fall migrations.

“Human disturbance, including construction of the Chippewa Point causeway, coupled with system-wide hydrologic regulation, has dramatically altered the vegetation composition, open water, and water flow throughout the wetlands,” explained John Farrell, Director of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) Thousand Islands Biological Station (TIBS), Governors Island. “Like many coastal marshes along the St. Lawrence River, Blind Bay has been dominated by an invasive hybrid cattail, which exists as a dense monotypic stand, obstructing natural water flow, crowding out native vegetation species, and providing poor habitat conditions for native fish and wildlife.”

Ed Farley, New York Regional Biologist for Ducks Unlimited, stated “These cattails form thick mats that provide little benefit to wetland-dependent wildlife. In an effort to restore fish spawning and waterfowl nesting habitat, restoration crews are excavating channels and pools in the dense cattail mats. DU has implemented this type of work throughout the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River coastline, and after restoration we observe positive responses from a diversity of wetland birds, fish, and plants, as well as new access for fishing, birding, and kayaking.”

The causeway across the marsh prevented the historic water flow through the marsh and allowed cattails to fill in. In this project, new culverts were installed under the causeway.

The restoration work enhanced over 25 acres of emergent marsh. The work included a series of excavated, interconnected, potholes and channels in the dense cattail mat and culvert replacement to restore water flow. Open water interspersed throughout the emergent vegetation is preferred by many wetland birds and required for brood rearing and foraging habitat. These methods have been successfully implemented elsewhere on the St. Lawrence River, including French Creek, Point Vivian, Cranberry Creek Goose Bay, and Chippewa Creek. Preliminary results indicate improved ecological conditions that promote native fish reproduction. Farrell states, “Based on samples from similar projects, over 390,000 fish of 44 native species were produced including over 5,000 young northern pike in habitats that did not previously exist.” Pre- and post-restoration monitoring will be conducted by scientists at TIBS.

The Blind Bay Wetland Restoration Project and others carried out in the Thousand Islands have been identified through the Fish Habitat Conservation Strategy, a partnership developed by SUNY ESF and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enhance fish populations. Contributing partners include New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited and TILT.

The newly excavated channels and potholes between Sand Bay and Blind Bay at the north end of Chippewa Bay 

As TILT's executive director I am proud of the fact that the Blind Bay Wetlands Restoration Project is yet another example of TILT and its conservation partners working with private landowners and community and government leaders to conserve wildlife, water and air quality, and the region's important environmental features. TILT and its partners endeavor to strengthen private and public interests in land as a means to enhance the quality of life and to stimulate human appreciation, scientific research, and education regarding the importance of natural ecosystems and environmental sustainability.

By Jake Tibbles, Executive Director, Thousand Islands Land Trust

Jake Tibbles was appointed Executive Director in May 2012. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the State University of New York at Cortland, majoring in both Biology and Chemistry. He first came to the Land Trust in 2007 in a research internship and continued on as Director of Stewardship. Since being appointed Executive Director, he has overseen TILT's Reaccreditation by the Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission, and its growth in conserved lands, in educational programs, and staffing.

[Editor's Note: Disclaimer -  I was on the board of TILT for over 25 years and want to go on record saying that working with this organzation was a delight thanks to so many individuals such as Jake Tibbles. Seeing how much they accomplish each year makes former board members proud!]

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 9, September 2021, Nature, Places, News article

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