Massachusetts NWR Receives $3 million for Salt Marsh Restoration

Funding provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will revive 1,600 acres at Parker River


In an effort to mitigate the loss of coastal salt marsh in New England, Ducks Unlimited (DU) is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Massachusetts Audubon Society on a $3 million project that will restore 1,600 acres of salt marsh at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) within the Great Marsh.

Over time, many of the marshes in Massachusetts were altered to support agricultural production and housing development. In the greater Boston area, more than 81% of salt marshes have been lost since 1777. Coupled with sea-level rise, failing agricultural infrastructure (ditches and berms) has accelerated salt marsh loss.

With less than 45,000 acres of salt marsh remaining in Massachusetts, it’s imperative to safeguard and restore these systems to provide essential wildlife habitat, protect coastal communities from flooding, and provide recreation opportunities. Restoration and management of Massachusetts’s salt marshes is critical before these systems decline to a point where restoration would become more costly, and likely less effective.

DU is proud to be included in this partnership that will use nature-based solutions (runnels, ditch remediation, ditch clearing, and microtopography) to address an urgent conservation need.

“Salt marsh management is a balance between water levels and surface elevation. When water is trapped on the marsh surface for too long, it drowns the vegetation and creates mud flats,” said DU Biologist Bri Benvenuti. “We are working to identify barriers and restore the natural balance between flooding and draining that was altered by historic agriculture and development. Salt marshes provide critical habitat for many declining bird species, including the at-risk saltmarsh sparrow and American black duck. It takes strong partnerships for conservation success, and we are eager to support our partners working to restore the Great Marsh.”

At Parker River NWR, managers have already begun to use cost-effective, nature-based solutions to implement a holistic and comprehensive marsh restoration approach that will promote the long-term resilience of the Great Marsh. The bulk of the work from this grant will take place in the fall of 2023 and run through 2024.

"I think this will be huge for the local communities that are surrounding the protected area," said Nancy Pau, a USFWS wildlife biologist at Parker River. “We have restored about 500 acres of marsh so far. It was a lot of hard work over many, many years. Now that we've figured out how to do it, we are scaling up.”

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Joe Genzel 

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