Jul 27, 2010

Protests Over Death of Freshwater Marsh at Prime Hook NWR

On July 23, CapeGazette.com reported on the efforts of Delaware resident Melanie Hoff, who has taken on the task of publicizing the death of the freshwater marsh at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.

The change in the refuge near her home inspired Hoff to produce “Death of a Marsh,” a video she uploaded to YouTube. The transformation in the refuge is caused by saltwater intruding into a series of freshwater marshes that for decades have been maintained using water-control devices to keep freshwater in and saltwater out.

But winter storms over the past two years have opened a wide breach just north of Primehook Beach, and the Delaware Bay’s saltwater flows freely in, killing off vegetation that thrives in freshwater marshes…

She and her husband, Jim, are on a mission to get answers to a nagging question: Why did refuge management do an about-face and allow saltwater to overtake the marshes?

According to Hoff, state environmental officials were ready to repair the dunes at Fowler Beach, but federal officials stopped the work. In a January 19 letter to area residents, the project leader for Prime Hook and Bombay Hook refuges — Michael Stroeh — said the dunes on private land could no longer be repaired.

He said because of inevitable sea-level rise and future storms, “there is a real possibility the time for managing coastal impoundments for freshwater habitat is already past.”

Hoff and her husband have filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire “all maps, diagrams, letters, emails, reports, studies, testimonies, minutes, tabulations and records of meetings relating to a series of requests including salinity readings from Jan. 19 to May 1; a record of the decision to change management of the refuge from a freshwater to a tidally influenced saltwater marsh system; a study of the impact on the environment and residents; and any effort to obtain public comments on the decision.”

Other area residents are upset as well and are questioning management tactics:

Retiring Rep. George Carey, R-Milford, who lives near the refuge, said the area around Fowler Beach Road in the refuge now resembles the Dead Sea. “It’s time for the federal government to get off its butt and do something,” he said. “What is being destroyed is ridiculous. The breaches should have been fixed. Eight years ago, there were 80,000 ducks out there, and now there are none.”

Note: For those planning on attending the July 29 meeting about saltwater intrusion that was mentioned in the CapeGazette article, please see this more recent article saying that the meeting has been cancelled.

Watch Melanie Hoff’s video “The Slow Death of a Freshwater Marsh”

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