Project Profiles - United States
Tamarack Swamp: A Pennsylvania Rarity
by Jack Rowley, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
If you were to draw an “x” on the center of a map of Pennsylvania,
you would come very close to marking Tamarack Swamp, an ancient boreal
wetland and a biologically rich place that has, for the most part, escaped
the markings of time and progress. This swamp is a celebration of unusual
finds: bug-eating plants, uncommon dragonflies, and black spruce and balsam
fir rooted in soggy soils. Birds such as Virginia rail, swamp sparrow,
and northern saw-whet owl mingle with black bear, red-spotted newt, wood
frogs, and an abundance of other species.
The swamp is named for the unusual presence of tamarack (Larix laricina),
the only native deciduous conifer in the State. When Pennsylvania’s
last glacial period ended, some 12,000 years ago, most other boreal habitats
retreated northward, while this unique wetland remained intact, perhaps
because of its higher elevation (1,700 feet) and location in a basin,
a cold-air sink. Wetlands are not common in central Pennsylvania, and
most of those that do exist are not the boreal type. Tamarack Swamp is
one of the few examples of a black spruce/balsam fir/tamarack bog in north-central
Pennsylvania. Its presence takes on added importance as it forms the headwaters
of Drury Run, designated an Exceptional Value, High Gradient Clearwater
Stream by the State’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Birds have long been studied at Tamarack Swamp: F. R. Cope, Jr., referenced
the site in a 1902 article. W. E. Clyde Todd, Carnegie Museum of Natural
History ornithologist, first traveled to this remote part of the Allegheny
High Plateaus Region in 1894 and later made note of his findings in 1940
in Birds of Western Pennsylvania. Historically, Tamarack Swamp
supported nesting avifauna such as olive-sided flycatcher, yellow-bellied
flycatcher, Swainson’s thrush, red-breasted nuthatch, winter wren,
and purple finch. Today, it has Important Bird Area status.
Protection of this special place began in 1975, when the Pennsylvania
Bureau of Forestry established the Tamarack Swamp Natural Area, which
contains only about one-fourth of the 225-acre wetland. Because of the
rarity and significance of this habitat type in the State, Western Pennsylvania
Conservancy (Conservancy) ecologists visited the site in the mid 1980s
to assess its biological status, develop conservation boundaries, identify
landownership, and establish conservation priorities. Landownership proved
extraordinarily complex. In 1998, the Conservancy worked with seven estate
executors to assemble a purchase of 319 acres, which included uplands
and about one-fourth of the swamp’s area, and in 2002, with the
help of a $20,000 North American Wetlands Conservation Act Small Grant,
it acquired another 134-acre tract from 25 heirs, to protect another 20
percent of the swamp.
Given the size of the swamp and its watershed—totaling approximately
1,300 acres—much of the area remains unprotected. But be assured,
the Conservancy will take advantage of opportunities as they arise to
conserve the balance of this unusual Pennsylvania habitat.
For more information, contact Ann Sand, Assistant Director of Land
Protection, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, 209 4th Avenue, Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania 15222, (412) 288-2777, email@example.com.
It’s Not the Original, But It Works
by Marilyn Campbell, Illinois Audubon Society
In 1820, more than 60 percent of Illinois was blanketed with native grasslands.
By the mid 1800s, much of the State’s prairie was gone—as
settlers moved westward the prairie fell to the plow. Today, according
to Bill McClain with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Department),
one-hundredth of one percent remains.
No doubt grassland bird populations suffered losses during the early
days of change on the landscape, but since the mid 1960s, these populations
have suffered huge declines in Illinois. Bobolink numbers have plummeted
an estimated 96 percent, and field sparrows, nearly 64 percent. Greater
prairie-chickens came close to extirpation, and several other grassland-dependent
species are state-listed as threatened or endangered.
Why these more recent, precipitous declines? Research shows that many
grassland birds require large blocks of habitat and do not nest successfully
in small, fragmented parcels. Tracts as large as 250 acres may be required
to have a 50-percent likelihood of attracting species that are highly
sensitive to habitat fragmentation.
Studies conducted in Illinois show that prairie-chickens require different
vegetative structures throughout the breeding season, ranging from very
short grass or bare areas for male "booming," to mid-size vegetation
for nesting, to tall cover for hens and young in the summer. We will never
again see a landscape of native prairie with elk, bison, and natural fires
creating the diverse vegetative structures needed by grassland birds.
So, we meet their needs by creating a mosaic of tall native grasses and
forbs interspersed with parcels of short, cool-season grasses.
Illinois’ 3,470-acre Prairie Ridge State Natural Area has been
a state focus area for grassland bird management for several years. Thanks
to a partnership between the Illinois Audubon Society (Society) and the
Department, what began as a "prairie-chicken refuge" has expanded
to include habitat for both grassland and wetland species. In the past
3 years, the Society has added significant holdings to Prairie Ridge and
developed its own sanctuaries within the area. In 2001, the Society and
its partners created a wetland and an interpretive trail on a 40-acre,
former agricultural tract adjacent to the State’s land, providing
the only public access to the Prairie Ridge area. The trail and an observation
deck overlooking the wetland have lured nature lovers from around the
Birds also wasted no time in finding the new habitat at the Society’s
Robert Ridgway Grasslands Nature Preserve, including several state-listed
species. Sandhill cranes, black terns, and other migrants partook of the
wetland's offerings, and dickcissels and several other grassland species
nested in the “restored prairie” in the spring and summer
of 2002. The measure of success was best defined when a prairie-chicken
and her brood were spotted.
Partners will continue to purchase land from willing sellers in the focus
area, adding to the State’s acquisitions. The Society is managing
its preserve to complement the State’s management. The Prairie Ridge
partnership may not be able to restore the Illinois landscape to its original
state, but the simulation seems to be working.
For more information, contact Marilyn Campbell, Executive Director,
Illinois Audubon Society, P.O. Box 2418, Danville, Illinois 61834, (217)
Prairie Ridge Partners
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Illinois Audubon Society
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Grand Victoria Foundation
Illinois Conservation Foundation
Embarras River Tourism Council
Hamill Family Foundation
Eight Illinois Audubon Society Chapters
Fifteen Illinois Audubon "Habitat Savers" Donors
Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation
A Resort of a Different Kind
by Daniel Papp, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Nestled on the edge of Boise, Idaho’s, west bench lies the Hyatt
Hidden Lakes Reserve. No, it’s not another resort of the world-famous
hotel chain—it’s better.
A piece of land with a checkered past, the property was once owned by
F. Clyde Peck and farmed for a number of years before being leased to
an asphalt paving company. The company operated a gravel mine on the site
from the 1960s to the 1980s. As mining operations progressed, groundwater
seeps were exposed, allowing water to flow into the excavations. To drain
the extraction areas, channels were constructed that emptied water into
Warm Springs Creek, at the north end of the site, and eventually into
the Boise River. When the gravel operation ceased, beavers took ownership,
damming up enough water to create a 22-acre wetland.
Over the past century, the property has evolved from an upper-river sagebrush
terrace to an emergent/open-water wetland, with surrounding stands of
small black cottonwood and grass/shrub uplands. The 44-acre site has become
a significant pocket of wildlife habitat in the midst of residential neighborhoods.
In 1990, Larry Hyatt purchased the land from the Peck Family Trust. He
intended to donate the wetlands to the city but retain the 22 upland acres
for residential housing development. Various interests envisioned a greater
purpose: to secure the entire acreage as a wildlife preserve, integrating
compatible, minimal-impact, public recreational and educational uses.
With funding from impact fees, private donations, and grants, Boise Parks
and Recreation (Boise Parks) purchased the 9 upland acres east of the
wetland for $149,550, and in 1998, added the 13 upland acres west of the
wetland for $273,326. Idaho Department of Fish and Game received a $50,000
North American Wetlands Conservation Act Small Grant to aid in the acquisitions.
Hyatt donated the wetlands, valued at $27,820, to the project.
In 1999, Boise Parks contracted with CTA LandWorks Group to develop a
master plan for the reserve, which was realized following three public
meetings. The plan proposes a balance between recreational and educational
uses on enhanced upland habitat and in open-space areas. Habitat enhancements
include the installation of two permanent water-control structures, the
creation of an island of protected habitat, the enlargement of open-water
areas, the planting of vegetation along the water’s edge and throughout
the upland area, and the installation of mechanical filtration devices
to pre-treat storm water before it enters the wetlands. A water-filtration
swale along the eastern edge of the site will be maintained for educational
and aesthetic reasons. Finally, fast-growing riparian trees will be planted
along a proposed road extension along the eastern upland boundary to help
buffer the wetland from the roadway. With its unique history, commanding
views of the Boise Foothills, resident wildlife, 6,000 migratory waterfowl,
and potential for environmental education, the reserve will be a significant
asset to the city.
Boise Parks manages the reserve and looks to the community for help in
developing plan-implementation funding and site-monitoring and environmental-education
programs. With all of this, the reserve is giving new meaning to the name
For more information, contact Daniel Papp, Idaho Department of Fish
and Game, P.O. Box 25, Boise, Idaho 83707, (208) 465-8465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve Project Partners
Boise Parks and Recreation
Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Intermountain West Joint Venture
Ducks Unlimited, Inc.
Golden Eagle Audubon Society