Tag Archives: farmers

Wetland wonder

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Click image for full story (Photo: Kayt Jonsson, USFWS)

By Megan Lang

For many a growing season, Matt and Marilyn Spong thought of the wetland on their farm as a problem spot. Year after year, crops they planted there would either fail completely or produce a smaller yield then the rest of the farm.

But rather than abandoning the area altogether, the Spongs got creative: with the help of the Service, Matt and Marilyn transformed their wet spot back into a natural wetland, creating new habitat for dozens of species.

For decades, wetlands in the U.S. have been in decline. A study in the 1980s found that the country had lost an area of wetlands twice the size of New Jersey from 1950 to 1970, restricting habitat for species like migratory birds that rely on wetlands to make their yearly migration. It’s only in recent years that conservation groups like the Service and its partners have been able to reverse that decline, and it’s only worked with the help of private landowners like the Spongs.

And the results, they say, have been worth much more than the crops that would never quite thrive.

“We see a whole lot more shorebirds and water turtles now, and we also see bald eagles that we rarely saw before the wetland was restored,” Matt said.

Click here to read the full story


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Two Canada geese coming in for a landing over the restored wetland (Photo: Kayt Jonsson, USFWS)

The Spongs’ story is featured in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nature’s Good Neighbors series, which highlights people across the U.S. who depend on the land as much as the land depends on them. These modern-day stewards of the land are working with nature to make a home for people and wildlife.

Stable Riverbanks Help Farmers Make Hay

Today we are hearing from Melanie Carter, a Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program Civil Engineer with the Virginia Field Office, stationed in Southwestern Virginia. I specialize in aquatic habitat restoration in the Upper Tennessee River Basin. 

We hear complaints from farmers when riverbanks erode into their hay fields. As the bank retreats, trees fall into the river and valuable productive land is lost. Animals like muskrats start burrowing into the vertical bare soil, creating holes in the field. Rainwater enters the holes, perpetuating bank instability. Land along the river becomes dangerous for farming equipment access. The worst part about bank erosion is that the river is now overwidened and can’t access its floodplain during high flows. Nourishing nutrients and fine sediments are no longer deposited in the field to replenish the soil and productivity declines.

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program collaborates with farmers in the Upper Tennessee River Basin to restore riverbanks using bioengineering techniques. In this watershed, there are over 30 fish and mussel species listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, making stable riverbanks essential to protect these species.

Our restoration projects begin with stabilizing the toe of the riverbank at is original location. We use a mix of materials such as boulders, coir logs, or large woody debris, in order to provide habitat along the river’s edge for fish and macroinvertebrates. Next, soil is added in lifts behind the toe protection to reduce sediment entering the river during construction. Riverbanks are returned to a more gentle angle to allow vegetation to establish. And riverbank height is adjusted to ensure a connection between the river and its floodplain.

Riverbank restoration in progress, showing boulder and coir log toe protection with soil lift installation. (Zack Edwards, USFWS Volunteer).

Native woody vegetation, such as willows and elderberry, are most effective at keeping banks in place, preventing erosion as well as providing habitat for birds and pollinating insects. We also encourage the farmer to create a riparian buffer along the river. You don’t need large hardwood trees to hold things together! Small shrubs and trees work just fine, reducing the shading effects on the field. Many of these species bear fruit and nuts that the farmer can harvest or enjoy the wildlife they attract.

After riverbank restoration, large woody debris and coir logs create aquatic habitat along the river’s edge, while native vegetation protects the bank from erosion and animal burrowing activities (Rose Agbalog, USFWS Biologist)

Gifts from nature: Farmers’ friends

American farmers have an unsung partner in bringing your holiday favorites to the table — bats.

Bat hunting a moth. Credit: Bat Conservation International

Bat hunting a moth. Credit: Bat Conservation International

During this season of holiday giving, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would like to take time and reflect on the gifts we receive throughout the year from Mother Nature. Gifts of Nature are treasures to behold and wonders to be thankful for.

Next time you are serving up a heaping helping of mashed potatoes or grandma’s corn pudding, think about this:

  • Bats eat millions of tons of insects each year- that includes many moths and beetles that are crop and forest pests.
  • In America and around the world, bats are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. Not only do they control pests, bats are important pollinators and very efficient seed-dispersers.
  • Many bat species in North America are threatened by a new disease, white-nose syndrome. The disease has killed over 5.5 million hibernating bats.

Bats are beneficial! Take a minute to learn more about these unique and amazing animals. Build a bat house to provide bats a safe place to raise their pups

And this holiday season, as you say your thanks over your meal with your family and friends this season, remember to thank a bat.