31 July 2011

Considering Recognition of Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary

Document submitted to two project agencies on 27 July 2011.

As mentioned in a published editorial and as requested by two area birders, there is an effort underway to have the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary recognized once again at Carter Lake.

Omaha officials passed a resolution recognizing this designation, with the backing of the Izaak Walton League. The May 10, 1925, issue of the Omaha Bee indicated: "Carter Lake has been made a bird preserve. No more may Omaha nimrods slaughter migrating flocks of ducks which seek rest in the lake. The fowls seem to realize that they will not be molested about the lake, and have made their homes near it in great numbers." (See editorial).

The recognition was given due to the lake being a haven for many different sorts of birds. Historically the environs had a greater diversity of species. As the lake was transformed, its value to various species declined slowly but certainly. There was also the Nepenthe place where Alva Leroy Timblin enjoyed the bird life in the early 1930s, especially before the airfield plane traffic drove them away.

Bird Sanctuary Signage

The interest in recognizing the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary would involve the placement of a marker at a suitable place that would recognize the feature. The cost for a marker would be raised through a fund-raising effort. It would also be installed by volunteers, so there would be no cost to a public agency.

The question is where should the marker be placed? Based on a review of the lake setting, development work planned for lake it would seem appropriate that the marker go on the east side of the lake at its southern extent. There are several reason for this suitability:

1) The available viewscape towards the lake would include the woods of the Bird Island and Iowa West Ranch which represent two primary undisturbed woodlands about the lake, and represent a natural setting, something which might have been seen in the 1920s.
2) This area of the lake is a no-wake zone so would not be disturbed by motor-boat traffic as nearly two-thirds of the lake will be.
3) It is a short distance from a parking lot, and would be a nice walk on a cement trail to visit the marker.
4) There are no plans to place unsightly concrete rip-rap along the shoreline.
5) The island provides a visual barrier to the urban setting of Carter Lake, including the barren Mabrey Park.

Unwanted Groins

There is one major concern and that is the planned installation of two rip-rap groins into the lake environs, southward of the southeast pier. They would provide fishing access. The groins are needed because people fishing do not want to fish from the bank, according to fisheries staff at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. A fisheries manager said he would discuss this situation with his staff, but nothing has been heard, though this was brought to their attention weeks ago. This was not included in the topics covered during the mid-July meeting of the agencies/people involved with this project. Why is this situation being trivialized?

The groins are an obvious intrusion to the lake area. NGPC fisheries staff have said the lake is not being important for birds, and so should not be considered. This agency has not however adequately addressed bird use during seasonal migrations, especially since the removal of rough fish. After conducting more than 20 bird surveys from April through July, the lake environs still have an interesting array of birds, and though mostly terrestrial species, there are good numbers of Canada Goose, Mallard and Wood Duck.

NGPC fisheries staff and their consultants have no basis – as there have been no facts provided to support their claim for saying how the lake is no important for birds. And though this was not mentioned in any public hearings, it is now and as the project is delayed, there is ample opportunity to make revisions.

A majority of the lake side is to be altered by installation of bank tabilization, jetties, breakwaters and other hard rock intrusions which will effectively convert the historic Missouri River oxbow into an "industrial lake" with little natural shore and floodplain woods. Any shallow water habitat has already been mostly lost due to dredging in the 1930s and by additional dredging planned for the current project.

The two groins indicated on the associated map are not essential to provide a suitable fishing experience at Carter Lake. They do ruin an area of the lake which should become recognized as a nice haven for birds. Having the groins intrude into the lake would obviously increase disturbance to any birds on the water.

Concerns over the use of Nebraska Environmental Trust funds for this project were expressed at the July meeting of the board. Funds from this trust should not be used for a project which limits its environmental focus – in this case water quality and fishing – to the exclusion and seeming detriment of other appreciated and recognized natural features: birds. The groins can be left out with no additional cost, and would actually have a minimal reduction in the project expenses.

The Carter Lake project is expected to cost more than $6 million. This money is being well spent to further reduce the value of the lake to native birds using federal funds. Has the project environmental assessment evaluated ancillary impacts?

There are additional concerns regarding the parkland management. There are also opportunities. Carter Lake can be so much more than an industrial lake and park.

The following graphic illustrates the location for the proposed bird sanctuary sign.

Birds the Losers

The local birdlife continues to be the losers when it comes to the changes being wrought to the natural setting of Cutoff/Carter Lake, both now and in the past.

These two pictures visually depict this occurrence.

The female Mallard on her nest below the rail fence luckily seemed to be successful. The image does depict how little suitable habitat was available for her use as this busy and hazardous site was selected. If the Levi Carter so-called "Meadows in the Making" were suitably managed to increase plant diversity, rather than just being signs placed to give rationale for not mowing early in the season, this mallard and other birds would readily benefit. And mowing the grass in mid-July is not necessary, as it would help breeding birds survive, rather than having their home become isolated and more open to predation by area cats. The primary north "meadow" area was mown before July 16. Picture taken 19 June 2011

The two Mallards on the dock were among the four chased away by the incoming boat. The boat did a spin around the lake and then left. Plans for the project appear to include removal of tree snags and other suitable features which could provide alternate roosts. Picture taken 16 July 2011

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This picture was not included in the document but is included here to show how averse some people are to a long-growth of grass. This is a private citizen cutting grass on a Saturday in Levi Carter Park. It is not known if the person had permission?

Picture taken 16 July 2011.