Early this past spring, Ducks Unlimited volunteers and staff, the USFWS, and Reliant Energy collaborated in an effort to restore tidal wetland habitat on the Riverbend marsh of San Bernard NWR. Two-dozen DU volunteers literally got their hands dirty planting smooth cordgrass in two important areas of the marsh.
As with many areas along the Texas coast, foraging by snow geese has denuded a significant portion of the marsh. Historically, there was plenty of wetland habitat for snow geese to feed on periodically, then move on to greener pastures while the wetlands slowly recovered. Unfortunately, rising snow goose populations during the past decade have severely stressed the fragile coastal marsh ecosystem. Large goose eat-outs, coupled with increased salinity levels and increased tidal energy flow, result in further loss of vegetation and a continuing cycle of marsh degradation. These conditions make it difficult if not impossible for marsh vegetation to recover, and prohibit the growth of beneficial submergent plants such as wigeon grass.
Such is the case at the 165-acre Riverbend eat-out on San Bernard NWR. Conservation partners on the refuge hope not only to jump-start the recovery of cordgrass in the marsh, but also establish a non-structural remedy to the increased tidal flow. "Increased tidal energy and salinity are very real problems for brackish and intermediate marshes along the entire Texas coast," explains DU Regional Biologist, Keith McKnight. "If the River Bend project proves successful in dampening tidal swings, we should be able to replicate what we've done to similar degraded marshes."
Thanks to the willing hands of DU volunteers and the generous donation of cordgrass plugs by Reliant Energy, ducks making their way to the Texas Gulf Coast in the future will be greeted with a healthier marsh at San Bernard NWR.