Applied Ecology and Master Plans

Trout Unlimited Stream Monitoring

The national conservation organization, Trout Unlimited, turned to One Nature in 2015 for a comprehensive hydrological evaluation of a brook in Connecticut. They were concerned about threats to native fish populations, especially brook trout, and hired One Nature to conduct a scientific assessment. 

The brook is a secondary tributary to Long Island Sound and contains unique habitat for native brook trout population. Trout are considered an “umbrella” species—if trout health is suffering, it is likely that other species are also under threat. Trout Unlimited noticed unhealthy, stagnant water in the lower section of the brook. During the hot summer months, it is likely that water becomes too warm for brook trout in the stagnant lower section of the water body.  

The upper half of the brook, however, is excellent brook trout water with water that typically moves in steady volume.  A temperature survey revealed a consistently cool temperature, generally well below the 70-degree threshold that is so important to trout health. But this fresh, abundant, cool water disappears downstream. Further observation led to the conclusion that the most likely reason for the degraded section of brook is that a water utility company is drawing large quantities of water from the affected site.

Over a six-month period—April through October 2015—One Nature monitored the brook using in-situ probes, photographic documentation, fieldwork, and desktop analysis. Six monitoring sites were set up along the brook to record atmospheric pressure and water volume, depth, and temperature. The result of this work provides significant insight into the dynamics of stream flow in the brook. 

Many rivers and streams on the East Coast are ecologically altered by a centuries-old tradition of water harvesting to support local communities. However, such water harvesting does not necessitate the degradation of the overall ecological health of waterways. Our study outlined a series of next steps which should be taken to restore healthy, year-round flows to the lower section of the waterway.

 

Bushkill Creek Bioengineering

When Hurricane Irene swept through the Northeast in 2011, it caused significant damage to Bushkill Creek, one of the few streams that feeds directly into the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills. River banks were torn apart and the resulting erosion caused tainted water downstream. One Nature was invited to design a plan for restoring a severely impacted section of Bushkill Creek and the client, Ulster County, agreed to a state-of-the-art bioengineered design to restore a 6-acre section of river and banks. The Bushkill Creek Restoration Project will be completed in the fall of 2016.

Bioengineering—integrating nature into the landscape restoration design—is fast becoming a popular solution for regeneration, because the methods are ecologically sound and result in long-lasting revitalization. Designs that are purely engineered, using only non-living materials, are strong at the time of completion, but tend to fall apart over time. Bioengineered designs use living material. With time, a bioengineered system gains strength and lasting stability as plant roots take hold and integrate with structural supports. In fact, an engineered design was put in place shortly after Hurricane Irene and subsequently failed.

The first stage of the Bushkill Creek project will be to rebuild and fill in the left bank with soil since much of it was swept away by storm damage and erosion. Trench packing follows—a method of filling small holes in the contour of a stream bank with live branch cuttings and compacted soil to encourage plant growth and stop erosion. Once the soil is shaped, sloped, and trench packed, live stakes and live fascines will be inserted, both of which are instrumental to preventing further river bank erosion in bioengineered design. Live stakes are native, live woody cuttings with the branches trimmed. They soon grow a root mat that stabilizes the earth bed by binding soil particles together. These live stakes, once flourishing, also enhance the beauty of the site and provide a habitat for wildlife. Live fascines are bundles of live brushwood that provide immediate erosion protection. The fascines, which take hold quickly, will be planted parallel to the waterway on both sides of the stream and close to the water’s edge. 

The plant species selected for live cuttings are all native plants and trees thriving in the surrounding Ashokan watershed, including willow, dogwood, sycamore, alder, winterberry holly, and meadowsweet, among several others. Once the earthwork is completed and the trench pack, live stake, and fascine installations are in place, the site will be thickly seeded with a custom-designed mix of aggressive native plants precisely chosen for the Bushkill Creek environment. In addition to several species of grasses and ferns, wildflowers such as jack-in-the-pulpit, marigold, milkweed, rose mallow, bee-balm, monkeyflower, and aster will be integral to the mix. Within a few months, erosion will cease at the Bushkill Creek site, water quality will be restored, and the area will be growing its way back to a healthy, stable, and sustainable ecosystem.

Note: While One Nature developed the conceptual vision for this project and performed construction management, professional design services for this project were provided by Hudson Land Design Professional Engineering, P.C. and Woidt Engineering & Consulting, P.C.

Ash Creek Ecological Master Plan

The goal of this ecological planning effort is to establish a framework for the systematic development of a comprehensive restoration plan for the enhancement, restoration, use, and management of the Ash Creek estuary.

Ash Creek is one of Connecticut’s few remaining ecologically significant tidal estuaries within a densely populated urban area. Many urban tidal estuaries have been destroyed by development or are in such poor condition that they cannot provide habitats for migrating birds, wading birds, seed oysters, hard shell clams, or finfish. This also significantly diminishes opportunities for valuable vegetation like saltmarsh cordgrass to grow. The presence of these species within cities not only offers residents and visitors a unique ecological experience, but also provides a foothold for the future regeneration of crucial ecosystem services.

Ash Creek, in contrast, provides a tremendous number of ecological benefits. The Ash Creek tidal estuary serves as a wildlife sanctuary for nesting birds, shellfish, and finfish. It is also a breeding ground for horseshoe crabs, and an important area for seed oyster and hard shell clam beds. The estuary’s location along the Atlantic Flyway makes it a prime stopover and feeding location for migratory shorebirds along the Connecticut shoreline.

In addition to its wildlife and plant habitat, the estuary provides opportunities for human recreation such as walking, nature watching, kayaking, and non-mechanized boating.  It serves as flood control for surrounding areas and captures some upstream pollutants prior to their infiltration into Long Island Sound. It lessens and detoxifies pollutant loads before they enter the Sound. Its tidal wetland vegetation stabilizes the shoreline and prevents erosion. The St. Mary's sand spit buffers the estuary and the neighboring community from wave action during storms. The estuary also provides an aesthetic identity to the surrounding neighborhoods and serves as landmark open space. These culturally important services improve the quality of life in the local community and, in turn, enhances local property values. 

Ash Creek is also an important part of the local heritage and community.  From its earlier colonial uses as a mill site and an avenue for transportation, to its current use for commercial oystering and community open space, the estuary has always served as a place of communion between the local community and its natural resources.

Currently, several local schools use the estuary for environmental education. In Fairfield, the non-profit Mill River Wetland Committee has developed the River-Lab Program to provide classroom materials and activities for students, extensive training for study-trip guides, and professional development for teachers. The program uses outdoor activities to help students from Osborne Hill and Fairfield Middle School discover the principles of river basin systems and their inter-relationships with other important natural systems and with humans. In Bridgeport, the Black Rock School, St. Ann’s School, the Aquaculture school, and others also use the estuary for environmental education.

To add further complexity, the estuary is bisected by the Fairfield-Bridgeport municipal boundary. This political division creates challenges, complications, and opportunities regarding local planning and management of the creek.

Until recently, traditional planning efforts have been primarily tailored to the natural resources physically located within one municipality or the other. Although Bridgeport and Fairfield have addressed Ash Creek in one form or another in their open space planning (e.g. the City of Bridgeport Open Space Master Plan, the Town of Fairfield Multiple Use Management Plan for Coastal Open Space), these planning documents tend to be specific to their municipal boundaries and rarely consider the estuary as a unified whole.

The practical implications of Ash Creek being shared by two municipalities have long been recognized. The Ash Creek Conservation Association was formed as a unifying organization to protect and preserve the estuary. As such, the Association is ideally situated, and uniquely qualified, to be a bridge between the two municipalities and therefore play a central role in developing and coordinating planning efforts for the estuary.

More recent planning efforts have attempted to move beyond the municipal boundaries. Notable efforts include the educational and advisory activities of the Ash Creek Conservation Association, and the currently-in-progress Rooster River watershed planning effort. Ash Creek, although part of the greater Rooster River watershed, is located downstream of the Rooster River, and connects the Rooster River to Long Island Sound.  A comprehensive restoration plan for Ash Creek will serve as a contribution and a compliment to the Rooster River planning effort.  

One Nature's preliminary study, generously funded by the Fairfield County Community Foundation, by the Watershed Assistance Small Grants Program conducted in association with the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act as administered by Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, and by professional pro bono contributions, is intended to establish a trajectory towards a comprehensive strategy for the restoration, use, and management of the estuary. It is intended as a starting point, a way to organize thinking and concerns about the estuary, a point of departure for understanding what is known about the estuary and what still needs to be known, and a road map for further action.

 

The Bee Farm Agroecological Master Plan

The Bee Farm is a beautiful 160-acre property of pasture and woodland in New York’s upper Hudson River Valley for which One Nature created an Agro-Ecological Master Plan. Interestingly, the farm got its name from a previous owner, the state beekeeping inspector, who maintained hundreds of hives at the Bee Farm. The current owner now produces a small amount of honey, uses the land to grow hay, and would like to develop an ecological reserve that allows for bird watching, hiking, and cross-country skiing.

One Nature was hired to develop an Agro-Ecological Master Plan for the Bee Farm. After repeated site visits and in-depth analysis, a comprehensive master plan was completed. This master plan proposed an ecologically sound maintenance program for existing field habitats: a strategy for managing forest areas, recommendations for the maintenance and definition of pathways, and the best locations for future building projects. The plan also included ecological restoration initiatives that would enhance views, increase biodiversity, encourage pollinators, and promote agriculture.

Open land at the Bee Farm consists of about 20 acres of hay field and less than 60 acres of wild field. One Nature recommends gradually converting the wild fields into hay fields over a five-year period to maximize agriculturally productive land. Controlled burns should be conducted every 10 to 20 years to encourage vigorous growth and nutrient cycling, and reduce invasive species. Supplemental seeding with a mixture of flowering native species was advised to help promote diversity and pollinator habitat.

Ecological restoration of forested, meadow, and wetland areas is an important component of the master plan. One Nature recommended select removal of unwanted plant and tree species and new plantings to provide better growing conditions for native species. Structures such as bird and owl houses, snags, and brush piles should be installed throughout the site to encourage native wildlife habitation. Building buffer zones around each water feature on the property, including ponds, vernal pools, and seasonal drainage basins, will protect these habitats.

One Nature’s holistic approach will allow our client to create an agro-ecological balance between wild and cultivated habitats on a broad scale. This will result in resilient and sustainable farming practices, and, in the process, will create stunning landscapes rich with native plant and animal life.

NYCDEP Plant Propogation

New Year City spends billions of dollars to protect it drinking water system, arguably the City's largest capital asset. Since 2016, One Nature has propagated plants for riparian stream corridor restoration project in the New York City's West-of-Hudson Reservoir system. These plants, grown with no chemical herbicides or pesticides, are critical to ensuring the forests around the reservoirs are healthy enough to filter pollutants from the drinking water. Seeds are collected from the Catskill Mountains, started by our partners at the NYC Greenbelt Center in Staten Island, and grown to size in our plant nursery. We deliver at least 5,000 each fall to partner Soil and Water Conservation districts for installation. 

 

East River Shellfish Monitoring

Under the directive of SHoP Architects and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), One Nature LLC was contracted to collect water quality data and report on site conditions at the EcoPark, an intertidal habitat slab located within the East River Waterfront Esplanade (ERWE) – a two-mile waterfront open space on the East River in Lower Manhattan. This report provided data from six months of bi-monthly water quality samples (May-November, 2014). In addition, One Nature analyzed results, discussed biota recruitment patterns, and offered recommendations for further establishment. This report was prepared for the New York Department of State with funds provided under Title 11 of the Environmental Protection Fund.

There was limited recruitment of mussels to the site, despite generally favorable water quality conditions. They tended to be found in niches between the rocks and in protected areas in the back (upriver) of the habitat, which would appear to be suitable habitat for them. Reasons for the limited recruitment may include relatively little supply of larvae from elsewhere in the NY Harbor area. Other organisms settled into the rocky area, including hydroids, sea anemones, and crabs (native rock crabs and non-native Asian shore crabs). These crabs eat mussels, and predation could be one reason why mussel populations did not increase.

Very few animals of any kind recruited onto the slab, which became covered instead by algae, beginning with the green algae, Entermorpha, and succeeding to an eventual dominance by Ulva lactuca. The lack of mussel recruitment to the slab is likely due to the lack of protection it provides for settling larvae which would be swept away by the swift currents of the East River before being able to attach themselves strongly enough. Furthermore, the successive combination of the green algae, Entermorpha and then Ulva, may have occupied potential settling locations for larvae looking to establish.

 

Mianus River Park Ecological Master Plan

Mianus River Park is a beautiful 400-acre recreational treasure in Stamford, Connecticut. The rolling Mianus River threads through the middle of the park; full of wildlife, dense forest, and colonial-era stone walls. In this highly developed area of Connecticut, the Mianus River Park has become a pedestrian refuge and overuse has caused significant damage. Because of increasing ecological strain and degradation of the park, the City of Stamford, in tandem with Trout Unlimited, turned to One Nature for an Ecological Master Plan (conducted in 2012) to restore the environmental health of this valuable natural preserve. After a year of analysis, One Nature designed a long-term Ecological Master Plan that integrates human use of the park with regenerative and sustainable ecological practices.

Trails

The popularity of the Mianus River Park has surged over the last decade. With land being used for hiking, fishing, dog walking and mountain biking, heavy visitation has caused soil compaction, eroded shorelines, and damaged hiking trails. One Nature determined there were many redundant and unofficial trails created by hikers and bikers, and that the excessive amount of trail in the lower section of the park could not sustain healthy ecosystems. It was therefore recommended that 50 percent of existing trails be shut down for full restoration of native habitats. In wet areas, especially along river trails, One Nature proposed elevated walkways to protect plant life and reduce erosion.

Forest

The Mianus River Park forests are almost entirely deciduous, comprised of trees that fall within the same age range and a limited number of species. Over time, this has created a homogeneous environment in which trees form a dense, single canopy that blocks sunlight and hinders soil regeneration. An ecologically healthy forest needs a mid-level canopy to successfully support native plants and animals. Human and dog traffic, and deer grazing have also added to the severe degradation of forested areas resulting in a lack of plant regeneration. One Nature recommended both tree thinning and new plantings to break up the upper canopy and diversify species, as well as soil regeneration to restore the forests. Native plants are the best solution for creating habitats that help native wildlife thrive. Plants should also be selected based on soil type, shade, and available moisture. One Nature strongly recommended using fences in highly vulnerable areas and around new plantings since the park is so heavily used. Some of the fences, which should be natural in color, may be removed once restoration has firmly taken hold. Those around entryways and along the main trail should remain in place to protect the landscape in the most highly trafficked areas.

River

The Mianus River is central to the park’s popularity. It serves as both a recreational fishery and a source of municipal water. Explosive visitation growth to the park and its river, especially for fly fishing, has taken a heavy toll on the river’s banks. Erosion along the shoreline has caused deep sections of the river to fill with sediment from the riverbanks. Important ground-level plant life is also absent because of excessive foot traffic. Shoreline stabilization is vital to restoring the riverbanks and will stop the rapid erosion and buildup of sediment in the river channel. In the Mianus River Park Ecological Master Plan, One Nature recommended putting in place a combination of the following river stabilization tools and systems: weirs, j-hooks, conifer revetment, large stones and boulders, bioengineering, fringe wetland, and flood banks. A robust native plant community along the banks would provide important food sources to aquatic species, moderate temperature, and reduce erosion during floods. The river’s edge should be replanted, protected from foot traffic, and visitor access points should be formally established to restore shorelines, which ultimately restores the river and ecosystem as a whole.