Developing a Maritimes Marsh Monitoring Program – Year 2 (2013-2014)

Final Report: Developing a Maritimes Marsh Monitoring Program – Year 2, 2013-2014

Goals and Objectives

The primary objective of the NB and NS Eastern Habitat Joint Ventures (EHJV) is to conserve waterfowl and
other wetland-dependent species by maintaining and improving the quantity and quality of wetland habitats. 
This objective is mainly achieved by securing, enhancing, restoring and managing valuable wetland and
associated upland habitat.   However, both the NB and NS EHJV implementation plans recognize that the
relationship between habitat conditions and bird populations requires further examination, and that evaluation
is needed to test current biological assumptions and EHJV guiding principles.  In 2012, EHJV partners
piloted a Maritimes Marsh Monitoring Program (MMMP) to provide a critical link between habitat and
population objectives; to ensure that population goals are being achieved through current JV activities.  The
pilot was carried out in NB’s Grand Lake and Aukpaque regions – two NB EHJV priority ecodistricts which
represent 4,000 ha of EHJV-secured land and contain much of the province’s key waterfowl and migratory
waterbird habitat.  In 2013, with appropriate sampling scheme and focal species determined, we hope to
continue to gather the baseline population indices needed to evaluate JV conservation and management
efforts, and from which population trends can be tracked over time, in the Grand Lake and Aukpaque
ecodistricts.  Further, in the second year of the project, we want to pilot the program in the EHJVs’ second
key program area (KPA) – Coastal Wetlands – focusing on secured and unsecured salt marshes in the
upper Bay of Fundy and the Kouchibouguac priority ecodistrict.

The long-term goal of the MMMP is to assess and monitor the status of wetland‐associated species and the
habitats upon which they depend in order to establish wetland conservation and management priorities for the
Maritimes and assess the effectiveness of ongoing conservation efforts by EHJV partners.

Objectives are to:

  1. Monitor trends in wetland‐dependent species population size, occupancy, distribution and abundance
    across ecological and jurisdictional boundaries.
  2. Gain a better knowledge of wetland species‐habitat associations (waterfowl as well as other marsh and
    wetland-dependent birds) and habitat features that influence occupancy, distribution and relative
    abundance at multiple spatial scales.
  3. Evaluate effectiveness of current management activities for wetland‐associated species, including
    wetland restoration and protection schemes.
  4. Assess success in achieving previously established population goals (as outlined in EHJV
    implementation plans).
  5. Gather information needed to evaluate and refine habitat goals for retention, restoration and
    management, and to monitor population trends to determine whether those goals are achieved.
  6. Identify additional high priority wetlands for conservation.
  7. Actively engage the public in wetland conservation and research.

 

In 2012, the MMMP was piloted in three of eight NB wetland types (Wet Meadow, Shallow Marsh, Deep
Marsh), using similar sampling methodologies developed for other MMPs (e.g., Prairie Parkland).  Pilot year
sampling involved point counts, Automated Recording Units (ARUs) and detailed habitat assessments. The
resulting data was used to generate preliminary estimates of detectability, occupancy and abundance for
focal species, and allowed us to determine the sampling intensity and strategy needed to adequately survey
for focal species. With route selection and ground-truthing completed, in 2013, we will gather baseline wetland
species population data that will be used to evaluate JV conservation and management efforts and can be
used to track population trends over time in the Grand Lake and Aukpaque regions.

In 2013, the program will be expanded to include the NB and NS EHJV’s second KPA: coastal, and
specifically, “salt marsh” wetlands.  This will require an initial pilot year to develop and test a sampling
strategy. The protocol will be tested in NB’s Kouchibouquac ecodistrict which contains 11,569 acres of
coastal salt marsh; a substantial proportion of the province’s coastal wetlands (Figure 1).  Although the
Kouchibouquac ecodistrict is considered a priority for securement under NB EHJV’s Coastal Securement
Strategy (Appendix V, NB EHJV Implementation Plan; Figure 2) only 74 ha have been secured to date.  Given
the high cost of securing coastal habitat and potential sea level rise, the MMMP will help to prioritize sites for
EHJV management and acquisition efforts and provide baseline wetland species numbers to evaluate
conservation efforts.

With both the Inland and Coastal sampling strategies developed, in 2014 we can then begin to “roll out” the
MMMP to NS as well as additional NB priority ecodistricts, and to engage volunteers.  To guide this process
in the future, the NB and NS EHJV partners have worked together to develop a document outlining the
MMMP’s broader strategic direction and implementation plan (attached).

 

Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

Information gathered in freshwater wetlands will provide the baseline data needed to monitor long-term trends
and changes in non-waterfowl wetland-dependent species populations (MMMP Objective #1). Wetland sampling
will be stratified to include EHJV secured and non-secured sites.  This will allow partners to evaluate the
effectiveness of current management and conservation activities (MMMP Objective #3), providing a clearer picture
of the waterfowl and wetland species occupying conserved sites and a means to evaluate success in achieving
NAWMP/EHJV population goals (MMMP Objective #4).   Habitat data will be used to determine species-habitat
associations and to identify habitat features that influence species occupancy, distribution and relative abundance
at multiple spatial scales (MMMP Objective #2); in turn this information will be used by project partners to evaluate
and refine current habitat goals, and restoration and management practices (MMMP Objective#5).

 

Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetlands-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife

The MMMP uses an intensive survey protocol that is geared towards detecting cryptic wetland species and
quantifying detectabillity, occupancy and abundance. Most wetland habitat conservation initiatives are geared
towards preserving area (e.g. number of hectares) without consideration of the diversity of the wetlands being
conserved. The MMMP will generate quantified estimates of species occupancy, richness, and abundance of
waterfowl, wetland-associated and migratory games birds and their habitat. This data will be used to fill information
gaps for waterfowl species that are poorly represented in the IBP surveys (e.g. Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked
Duck), due to the timing of breeding in these species. The combination of species and habitat data collected will
provide critical information to land-managers and conservation agencies about what key habitat features are needed
to ensure biologically diverse wetland communities in the Maritimes. By stratifying the surveys based on wetland
protection status, the MMMP will provide key information as to how effective managed wetlands are at conserving
critical habitat, which non-protected wetlands would be good candidates for preservation, and at meeting EHJV
partner’s goals for waterfowl conservation.

 

Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

The information gathered will enable Maritime EHJV partners to evaluate current wetland habitat securement,
enhancement, restoration, and management efforts towards achieving population goals. It will also contribute to
better knowledge of wetland species-habitat associations and habitat features that influence occupancy, distribution
and relative abundance at multiple spatial scales.   This information will be used to direct, refine and adapt future
management and conservation activities within the EHJV’s highest priority regions in the Maritimes.  The information
gathered will be transferred directly to those working on the ground to restore and maintain wetland habitats, e.g., DU
and NCC.

 

Project Location

Grand Lake and Aukpaque includes Sunbury, York and Queen’s counties.

Kouchibouquac includes Northumberland, Kent and Westmorland counties.

Upper Bay of Fundy includes Westmorland county

 

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Becky Stewart, Atlantic Program Manager, Bird Studies Canada,
Sackville, NB.