Preferred Alternative Plan Released for the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge West Pond
Thank you to all who joined New York City Audubon in submitting comments on the environmental assessment (EA) prepared for National Park Service (NPS) regarding alternative plans for the West Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The EA was released this past October and the official comment period closed on November 6. We are happy to report that we agree with the NPS Preferred Alternative: to repair the breach, return the pond back to its freshwater state with water levels that can be controlled, and provide wildlife viewing areas for visitors. The restoration will be done in two phases: 1. Repair of the breach and the loop path, and filling of the pond; 2. Habitat restoration, including upland habitat at Terrapin Point, shoreline restoration, salt marsh restoration, and installation of other visitor amenities. Our main concern is the fresh water source: we support either a ground well or municipal water supply and are against the method of waiting for the pond to fill with rain water and runoff. All of these efforts will provide better habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need and the people of New York City.
The comment period for the EA closed on November 6. Thank you to all who submitted comments in favor of restoration of a freshwater West Pond.
Our Vision for Restoring Jamaica Bay's West Pond
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was created as a wildlife sanctuary in 1951, occupying “West Island,“ a landfill composed of Rulers Bar Hassock and Goose Creek Marsh. At the urging of Robert Moses, then New York City’s Parks Commissioner, additional dredging and filling took place in order to form two freshwater impoundments, the East and West Ponds (115 acres and 44 acres, respectively). At the time, the ecological value of salt marsh was not fully recognized, and it was believed that freshwater would better serve the needs of wildlife, especially ducks and geese. In 1974, the refuge was turned over to the National Park Service as part of the formation of Gateway National Recreation Area, and both fresh- and saltwater habitats in the refuge have been important to resident and migratory birds in the ensuing years. In October 2012, the storm surge from hurricane Sandy breached both the East and West Ponds. While the East Pond was quickly repaired by the Transit Authority as part of its efforts to restore train service to the Rockaways, the West Pond has remained breached, transforming it from a pond into a lagoon of Jamaica Bay.
The Draft General Management Plan for Gateway National Recreation Area, released in the fall of 2013, called for “leaving West Pond breached until a study is completed under a more regional effort to reestablish freshwater wetlands.” This study is underway. While the National Park Service sought funding for the restoration of the West Pond, NYC Audubon began exploring restoration concepts. NYC Audubon recommends that the National Park Service design the restoration to maximize habitat for the species of greatest conservation need in Jamaica Bay, while building long-term resiliency to climate change and sea-level rise as well as improving wildlife protection and providing more opportunities for public viewing. Click here to read NYC Audubon's full Restoration Recommendations for the West Pond.
A total of 61 bird species found at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge have been identified as having significant conservation need. These are species with declining populations, or which are present in New York State in only small numbers and therefore vulnerable. Among them are herons and egrets; common terns; shorebirds such as red knots, piping plovers, and American oystercatchers; and migrating upland songbirds such as black-throated blue warblers.
1) High salt marsh NYC Audubon has identified the following habitats, in order of priority, as being most crucial for bird species:
2) Low salt marsh
3) Sand beach
4) Intertidal mudflats
5) Maritime forest
6) Coastal plain pond
7) Gravel beach
8) Freshwater marsh
9) Shell beach
10) Marsh Island
Further analysis of these bird habitats suggests that high salt marsh, intertidal mudflats, coastal plain ponds and freshwater marsh are the most under-represented habitats within Jamaica Bay. Our recommendations emphasize these habitats in the restoration of the West Pond and are based on the best current evidence from published studies and from detailed analysis of current habitat conditions. Click here to read NYC Audubon's full Restoration Recommendations for the West Pond.