Larry Brindza, a Northern Virginian who bills himself as Citizen Scientist, Monarch Expert, Author and Tagger, captivated the audience on May 15 describing his work with monarch butterflies at the Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge and on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He told the group that he has been “blissfully tagging monarchs since 2001.”
Opening with “The monarch butterfly is one of the most fantastic critters on the planet,” he went on to describe the stages of growth, habitat, migration patterns and how he meticulously weighs, measures and tags these orange and black butterflies every fall as they migrate south, many to Mexico’s rugged Transvolcanic Mountain Range.
The number of monarchs in North America reached a record low in 2012, a 59 percent decline from 2011. Brindza attributes the drop in numbers to habitat destruction in the United States, severe weather and timber cutting in the wintering ground in Mexico, with loss of habitat being the major factor. He urged people to plant more milkweed, the monarch’s host plant. “Anyone of us can plant milkweed,” he said. “It’s the best thing people can do.”
Monarch butterflies can be seen in the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. The meeting was sponsored by the Friends of Dyke Marsh, the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges and Georgetown University’s Center for the Environment.
FODM Meeting Featured Herps Native and Invasive
Among other facts she presented, attendees learned that the copperhead is the only venomous snake in Fairfax County. The Chinese soft-shelled turtle, a non-native species, is in Dyke Marsh. She explained that state regulations prohibit releasing wild animals.
Caroline treated the audience to both northern Virginia native herps and a few exotics including the alligator pictured above. Her conservation message: Protect habitat and leave wild animals alone.
President's Message, Spring 2013 - Glenda C. Booth
As spring unfolds, we have much to celebrate.
Promontory Restoration Is Key
The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has announced a proposed agreement with National Airport under which the airport may provide $2.5 million for the first phase of Dyke Marsh restoration. These funds would represent compensatory mitigation for 1.94 acres of impacts of an airport runway safety area required to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety standards.
Under the proposal, the funds would be used to build a breakwater in the southern part of Dyke Marsh to replace the historic promontory removed by dredging. The U.S. Geological Survey’s 2010 study found that the marsh is “not in a geologically stable state” and that removing the promontory “also removed historic geological protections to the marsh and altered the size and function of its remaining significant tidal creek network.” The USGS study says, “The primary protections that likely are needed to protect and enhance natural deposition at the marsh include a functional wave break at the position of the former promontory and an effective blockage of the deep scar channels that parallel the shoreline within the Dyke Marsh eastern boundary.”
Replicating the former promontory in the southern part of the marsh would be the first phase of a more extensive restoration plan, a plan that NPS expects to publish this year. Under the airport-NPS agreement, a Statement of Findings, NPS must execute a contract by December 31, 2015 and complete construction by December 31, 2016.
FODM supports directing these funds to Dyke Marsh restoration. Human activity removed 270 acres of material from the marsh and because dredging destabilized the wetland, only 60 acres of marshland remain today. Dyke Marsh is losing 1.5 to two acres a year and could be gone in 30-40 years without action. A restored promontory can protect the marsh, encourage accretion and deposition of sediment, increase buffering from storms and flooding and restore ecosystem services that benefit the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay and the community. A promontory can enhance the success of the next phases of restoration by stabilizing this part of the eroding shoreline. Send your comments now to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=45963.
Larry Cartwright Honored by Virginia Society of Ornithology
FODM member Larry Cartwright received the Jackson M. Abbott Conservation Award on April 27 from the Virginia Society of Ornithology (VSO). FODM and other organizations recommended Larry, recognizing his many years of volunteer conservation work.
FODM wrote: “Larry is a dedicated, tireless conservationist. The Friends of Dyke Marsh recognized him last year with an award because of his 20 years as a diligent and expert coordinator of the annual Dyke Marsh Breeding Bird Survey. Without his work, the U.S. National Park Service and the Friends of Dyke Marsh would likely not have such complete data on avian life in this tidal, freshwater wetland.
“His surveys and record-keeping are thorough and meticulous and he approaches this volunteer work with enthusiasm. . . He does not just count birds. He advocates for healthy ecosystems and habitats on which birds depend.”
The VSO award is given to individuals or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding conservation work in Virginia. It is named honor of the late Jackson M. Abbott, FODM member and Mount Vernon-area resident, because of his lifelong devotion to conservation.
The avian breeding frenzy is underway. The “boat ramp ospreys” are back and again, patiently tolerating nosy humans. We have a bald eagle pair tending their nest and presumably their nestlings for the fourth year and eastern screech owl too.
On March 17, 20 D.C. Surfriders conducted a waterborne cleanup and hauled out around 50 bags of trash. Thirty-five volunteers collected several dozen large bags of trash in Dyke Marsh and along the shoreline at the Alice B. Ferguson cleanup on April 6. A local Brownie troop explored the marsh. We hosted a Washington Post science reporter who wrote about bald eagles. We had a walk with a NatureServe staffer who is developing a web-based field guide to the ecological communities of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP), including Dyke Marsh. We partnered with the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park for frog identification training and will have a walk in the western part of Dyke Marsh to look for frogs and bats on May 1. We had an overflow crowd at our November 13 program on reptiles and amphibians where Caroline Seitz brought live herps – even an alligator!
The National Park Service, like most federal agencies, is coping with budget “sequestration,” a five percent cut in funding at a time when parks are 1/14th of one percent of the nation’s budget. Congress had already cut the NPS budget by six percent in the last two years, contributing to an annual operations shortfall of $500 to $600 million. For the GWMP unit, sequestration has brought a $500,000 to $600,000 cut. Stretched budgets call for more volunteer efforts to support NPS as well as concerted work to build more public and political will in support of national parks.
I have had the honor of representing FODM at several meetings of national parks leaders and friends’ groups. National leaders said that the national park concept – of reserving unique and remarkable natural lands for all the people – was born in America. As filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan titled their series, national parks are “America’s best idea.”
The National Park Service is preparing for the National Parks Centennial in 2016. Peggy O’Dell, an NPS Deputy Director, told friends’ groups from around the country on February 26 that NPS “will not change its values” and the centennial will “not be a birthday party,” but a “renewal” and “repositioning” for NPS. The heart of the planning is NPS’s “Call to Action,” a suite of 36 actions to advance national parks for their second century. I urge you to read it at http://www.nps.gov/calltoaction/.
Dyke Marsh Islands Get Official Names
The multi-agency U.S. Board of Geographic Names has given four islands in the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve official names – Angel, Bird, Coconut and Dyke Island.
As we reported in our summer 2012 issue, the Friends of Dyke Marsh suggested four different names -- Osprey, Marsh Wren, Kingbird and Cormorant Islands. Congressman Jim Moran and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed with FODM’s suggestions.
The Board accepted names recommended by the U.S. Geological Survey scientists who prepared the comprehensive 2010 study documenting the severe erosion occurring in Dyke Marsh (http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2010/1269/) and entered the new names into the Geographic Names Information System, the official repository (http://geonames.usgs.gov).
Commenting on the decision, Congressman Moran said, "Dyke Marsh is one of Northern Virginia's treasured wetlands and deference should be given to local community and local government when it comes to naming geographic sites. The Friends of Dyke Marsh proposed thoughtful and appropriate names for the four islands and I am disappointed USGS rejected the recommendations. Moving forward, we must continue working to preserve Dyke Marsh. Regardless of what the islands are named, they are important to the community."
Our 2012 article provides the rationale of the Board’s decisions and for FODM’s recommendations. Generally, FODM argued that the names should reflect the flora or fauna that are typically present and observed by those who know the area best.
The National Park Service told the board that they have “no objection” to the names recommended by USGS scientists. The website of the Board states that its goal is to “maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government. . . In partnership with federal, state and local agencies, the Board provides a conduit through which uniform geographic name usage is applied and current names data are promulgated.”
Jeb Byrne (1925 - 2011); Founding Member of the Friends of Dyke Marsh - by Ed Eder
On November 17, Jeb Byrne, a tireless advocate for conservation and restoration of Dyke Marsh, died, attended by close family. Jeb had a deep love of nature and his activism in protecting treasured parks and wetlands in our area is observed through his multiple published articles in the Washington Post and other local printed media dedicated to raising public awareness of threats to our parks and wetlands. Living in the Little Hunting Creek watershed, Jeb developed a particularly close attachment to Dyke Marsh and joined Ed Risley to provide an early alert with respect to the fragility and value of this national park. Jeb's energy and enthusiasm, whether on walks through the marsh or on canoeing surveys at Dyke Marsh, was a factor in attracting acolytes in his quest to protect precious green areas in our community. Jeb's leadership was paired with a strong environmental ethic, and a determination that would not be deterred by temporary setbacks. His legacy is evident in the strong relationship between the Friends group and the National Park Service that he helped forge and the sense of community that he fostered between the Friends group and affiliated conservation groups in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Jeb was a prolific reader and had a fundamental understanding of Aldo Leopold's words: "The good life of any river may depend on the perception of its music; and the preservation of some music to perceive." Jeb helped me in enhancing my perception through his passion and teaching about Dyke Marsh and for that I will always be grateful.
Eagle Scouts Install New Benches at DMWP - by Ben Luce
On September 17, Eagle Scout candidate Ben Luce of Boy Scout Troop 135 in Alexandria organized and oversaw the installation of four benches along the Haul Road trail. The project was completed in conjunction with the National Park Service as its sponsor, under the supervision of Erik Oberg.
Scouts began digging the two-foot deep bench support excavations at 9:00 a.m. with more than thirty volunteers present throughout the course of the day by 6:30 p.m. Three benches were installed along the trail and one bench was fastened to the wooden observation deck at the end of the trail. Additionally, many invasive plants were cleared to create a vista of the marsh at the third bench location.
The installed benches remained taped off overnight as the concrete cured, and a small crew removed the bracing hardware the following Sunday. Just twenty-four hours after installation, visitors were already using the new benches.
The scouts hope that the benches will not only serve the practical purpose of providing places to sit along the trail, but additionally, of creating more awareness of the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. They hope that the benches will make the area more visitor-friendly, which will in turn draw more visitors, and ultimately result in greater support for the preservation and restoration of Dyke Marsh. Photos by Ned Stone.
Research on Sediment Dynamics in Dyke Marsh
Many of us have wondered, "Is the marsh growing or shrinking? Is it being rebuilt by the river, or are we losing it to erosion?" To provide some answers to these questions, research in the gain and loss of sediments in the marsh has been undertaken by Cindy Palinkas and David Walters of the Horn Point Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, MD, in cooperation with the National Park Service, building on earlier work by Katia Engelhardt. They reported their work in a poster paper at a recent conference of the American Geophysical Union. The goal of their study is more modest than predicting the ultimate fate of the marsh: "to better understand the spatial and temporal variability in sedimentary processes in a freshwater tidal marsh." There are competing effects at work in setting the level of the marsh relative to the river. The Potomac always carries a burden of sediment, which is greatly enhanced following heavy rain upstream. Two daily incoming tides flood parts of the marsh, and some of the river-borne sediment is left behind in those areas.
The following is a copy of a letter to the editor written by FODM President Glenda Booth and published in the August 26 edition of the Mount Vernon Gazette.
Many newcomers view Northern Virginia as a suburban sea of tract homes, dense development, shopping malls and traffic jams.
I hope they realize that we are blessed with a natural jewel, which former U. S. Senator John Warner called “a magnificent little oasis.” It is the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve on the banks of the Potomac River in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, just south of Old Town Alexandria.
At 485 acres, the preserve is one of the last tidal wetlands on the river. Tidal freshwater marshes are rare, says Dr. Elizabeth Wells, a George Washington University wetland plant expert. This wetland complex is one of the most significant temperate, tidal, freshwater, riverine marshes in the national park system. Thus, it is a national treasure as well.
Congress designated it as a preserve in 1959 “so that fish and wildlife development and their preservation as wetland wildlife habitat shall be paramount.” Today, it has 300 known species of plants, 6,000 arthropods, 38 fish, 16 reptiles, 14 amphibians and over 230 birds, Like all wetlands, Dyke Marsh provides ecological services: flood control, water quality enhancement, habitat, fish nursery, shoreline stabilization and recreational opportunities.
It’s been excavated, dumped in and invaded by exotics. Commendably, the U.S. National Park Service is moving to restore damaged areas.
The Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is “the nearest thing to primeval wilderness in the immediate vicinity of the city,” wrote naturalist Louis Halle in 1947. Newcomers’ lives can be enriched by the few remaining natural areas like Dyke Marsh that have not fallen prey to the bulldozer and asphalt spreader.
Take a walk out the Haul Road in Dyke Marsh, and when you
round the bend you will be treated to an open view of the Potomac River on your
right, thanks to Don Robinson (pictured), Ned Stone and Mary Jo Detweiler. The
three meet Friday mornings to remove Bush (Amur) Honeysuckle and other invasive
plants from Dyke Marsh. After they cut invasives to the ground and flag the cut
stems, National Park Service personnel selectively apply herbicides to the
flagged plants. Stone and Robinson have been trained by NPS to identify and
remove invasives. To join this volunteer effort, please contact either Ned
Stone, 703-765-5441 or email@example.com, or contact Elizabeth Ketz-Robinson
or Don Robinson at 703-768-1344.