NRCS Programs Help Restore Huckleberry Farm Salt Marsh
Phragmites dying in background due to increased salinity from restoration project
Shore bird wading for fish trapped in a newly created salt marsh panne
Wetland Reserve and Conservation Innovation Grant Programs
combine to help restore Huckleberry Lane Salt Marsh
By Jewel McKenzie and Brooke Smart
It’s hard to believe that the invasive plant common reed, (Phragmites australis) once nearly covered the Audubon Society of NH land named the Huckleberry Lane Salt Marsh. Brooke Smart, NRCS Resource Conservationist, has witnessed a remarkable evolution of this site. In 2000, under a Wetland Reserve Program restoration cost share agreement, a 48-inch culvert that relayed water from the open shore into the nearby Little River Salt Marsh (downstream from the Huckleberry Lane Salt Marsh) was replaced with twin 6’ by 12’ box culverts under Route 1A. The larger culverts restored the tidal flow into the Little River Salt Marsh, increasing the salinity levels to control the phragmites allowing natural re-vegetation of the area. The positive changes to the plant community within Little River Salt Marsh were seen within several years of the culvert replacement but have taken many more years to show themselves at The Huckleberry Lane Salt Marsh which is located approximately 1 mile upstream from the culvert. Thanks to research efforts unrelated to the Little River project by the University of New Hampshire, the positive effects of the culvert replacement within the Huckleberry Lane Salt Marsh have been observed.
The University of New Hampshire (UNH) research project’s goal is to determine the best non-chemical regime to control the prolific, invasive phragmites plant. UNH professor Gregg Moore is leading the research team, which was awarded an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to partially fund the research. Partners include NH Audubon, Northeast Restoration LLC, and Rockingham County Conservation District. Throughout the project, Moore and volunteers have monitored the plots for percentage of cover, height, and species diversity to gauge the management methods. The time spent collecting data and monitoring the phragmites population at Huckleberry Lane to research mechanical control techniques have also worked to document the ongoing restoration still resulting from the culvert replacement at Little River.
These changes have been most noticeable in the past five years, with the receding and stumping of phragmites. Saltmeadow Cordgrass (spartina patens), a native “high marsh” grass is replacing the phragmites, forming a dense, springlike mat. Small water bodies, called salt marsh pannes, have formed as a result of the increased salinity and impermeable soils in the marsh. The altered salinity and sulphur in the pans have helped to control and reduce the abundance of phragmites. Moore and Smart agree that there has been a 30% decrease in the phragmites population since 2007. Vegetation surveys within the newly re-vegetating areas have also uncovered state-listed rare species: Eleocharis parvula (threatened) and Puchea odorata (endangered). Certainly if it wasn’t for the UNH research project, the total impact of the Little River culvert replacement downstream would not have been fully appreciated. This project stands testament to the value of long term monitoring for wetland restoration projects in order to capture the total extent of ecosystem benefits reached. The marsh is still changing, stay tuned!