For the Birds Radio Program: Shoreline Conservation Tips

Original Air Date: Aug. 12, 2004

Laura has some tips for those who live near shorelines.

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Something deep in our souls draws us to natural lakes, rivers, and streams. But the expression “you always hurt the one you love” is especially true of open water and the surrounding habitat. We often build cabins and homes on lakes because we love falling asleep to the haunting cries of loons, awakening to the ethereal songs of thrushes, and spending our days swimming and boating in sparkling waters. Unfortunately, when we bring to a wild lake our more civilized sensibilities, we may alter the natural setting in ways that hurt loons, thrushes, and other birds and damage the quality of the water for all of us.

Fortunately, with care, attention, and a little education, we can maintain and improve the aesthetic value of shoreline property while preserving water quality and enhancing the habitat for birds and other wildlife. A few hints:

• To give yourself a view of the water without damaging the shoreline, only selective remove branches, trees, shrubs, and ground cover. Most homeowners like the lovely framing natural trees provide to a lake view. • Limit the size of or even eliminate a turf lawn to prevent geese and other grazers from moving in, and to limit runoff. (The Canada Goose is a native species that has undergone a population explosion as it has adapted to the urban environment, being one of the few North American birds that can digest grass.)
• In lawn areas, rake leaves as soon as possible after they fall. Leaves are an appropriate and helpful part of soil maintenance in natural wooded areas. • Reduce or eliminate use of pesticides and fertilizers. There are many alternatives. • Ensure that you have appropriate storm water and erosion controls that follow natural contours of the land. Make sure water can soak into the soil rather than running off directly into the lake. • Limit paved sidewalks and driveways, and minimize rooftop areas, which encourage erosion and raise water temperatures. • Try to limit the area used for docking and boating activities, and limit the amount of shoreline cleared for a swimming and sunbathing beach.
• Try to limit shoreline erosion with organic materials, using riprap only as a last resort. • Remove aquatic plants only when absolutely necessary for swimming and boating activities. • Leave some fallen woody “debris” to provide critical habitat for fish, turtles, crayfish, and other aquatic creatures and the birds that depend on them for food. Fallen logs also provide fishing perches for herons and egrets. Standing dead trees along the shoreline are used as perches by Osprey and Bald Eagles, Belted Kingfishers, Cedar Waxwings, and other birds, and provide nest sites for woodpeckers, flying squirrels, some ducks and owls, and other cavity-nesters. • Don’t buy lakefront property with the plan of altering the habitat to put in a sandy beach where none exists. Many state departments of natural resources and zoning boards regulate this kind of habitat alteration, which can destroy important and productive natural habitat. • Don’t fill or alter natural wetlands, even if they’re only wet in spring, and consider restoring drained or filled wetlands. Wetlands are critical for keeping lake water clean, for producing fish and other wildlife, and for flood protection. • If you discover aquatic invasives on your lake, do your best to root them out, and inform your state department of natural resources. • In northern areas where they are not native, don’t throw unused earthworms into the woods! Keep them in moist soil in bins for reuse.
• Clean up after pets on beaches to prevent the waste, including nutrients and disease organisms, from going directly into the water! • Sweep driveways and sidewalks rather than washing them down. • Use no- or low-phosphate detergents, and take your car and boat to be cleaned at a carwash. • Try to maintain at least a 50-foot-wide buffer of native grasses, broad-leaf plants, shrubs and trees between the lake and your more managed yard. And don’t build any dwellings, garages, or other buildings within 75 feet of the shore. • Locate your garden away from the shoreline.