Onondaga Lake Restoration Plan Includes Critical New Habitat Conservation Measures

People from all over Central New York have helped restore over 70 acres of Onondaga Lake’s wetlands and shoreline.

Audubon New York Applauds the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees for Their Commitment to Preserving & Restoring the Onondaga Lake Ecosystem for Birds, People, & Communities

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, recently released the Draft Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Assessment Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment to assess injuries to natural resources as a result of industrial contamination and restore those injured resources. The NRDA plan includes eight ecological projects to replace the lost use of Onondaga Lake resources over the last century. “Audubon New York thanks the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees for including projects within the Onondaga Lake Restoration Plan that support the long term recovery and protection of critical habitats for priority bird species of Central New York and the Atlantic Flyway while protecting the vital natural resources of Onondaga Lake for the community,” said Chris Lajewski, Montezuma Audubon Center Director and Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps Program Coordinator.

Onondaga Lake became an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) in 1997 because of its value to migratory waterfowl and the lake provides the opportunity to teach local communities about the importance of stewardship to improve the welfare of birds and bird habitat. The IBA program is an international effort that serves as a catalyst for achieving bird conservation in areas deemed critical for the survival of priority species. As Onondaga Lake continues to recover, bird diversity in and around the lake is exhibiting impressive changes and improvements, highlighted by over three dozen Bald Eagles and numerous priority species of waterfowl that spend the winter there.

Since 2012, Audubon New York has proudly collaborated with hundreds of community volunteers and conservation leaders from across Central New York through the Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps (Corps), an expanding organization of environmental stewards who are contributing to restoration projects that create or improve wildlife habitat in the Onondaga Lake watershed. The Corps seeks to inspire future stewards of Onondaga Lake and its watershed through hands-on, experience-based programs that offer citizens and organizations the opportunity to help restore and sustain Onondaga Lake, enhance its value as an IBA, and raise awareness about its role as a critical natural resource to the communities of Central New York. The Corps has expanded with a number of private and public partners, including the Montezuma Audubon Center, Onondaga Audubon Society, Parsons, OBG, Anchor QEA, Bond Schoeneck & King, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Habitat Gardening in Central New York, and Honeywell.

With the help of Corps members, more than 70 acres of wetlands have already been restored and more than 80 bird species have been identified in and around Onondaga Lake’s restored habitats, including several species categorized as threatened or of special interest in New York State. Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Harrier, and Bald Eagle are among the notable bird species that have returned, and the planned ecological projects will support additional recovery efforts.

Audubon New York welcomes the opportunity to continue that partnership throughout the implementation of the ecological restoration projects announced as part of the NRDA plan. “The ecological projects identified in the Onondaga Lake Restoration Plan will build upon our successful conservation activities to date that have brought the lake back to life,” said Chris Lajewski. “They support long-term habitat conservation goals to protect and restore over 3,500 acres of forests, wetlands, and grasslands in the Onondaga Lake Watershed for a host of bird species, including the Cerulean Warbler, American Black Duck, and Bobolink, all of which have been identified by Audubon as priority species in need of conservation.”

The largest population of breeding Cerulean Warblers, a species of concern in New York, can be found at the nearby Montezuma Wetlands Complex. This plan has the potential to create additional breeding habitat to support this species and other breeding songbirds like the Wood Thrush, Baltimore Oriole, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The wetland restoration and protection projects will provide important habitat for waterfowl species such as the American Black Duck, whose population has declined significantly during the last 100 years, in addition to the Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ring-necked Duck. Also, the creation of 100 acres of grassland habitat will directly support the Bobolink, a grassland bird species that has suffered a 90% population decline in New York since 1966, as well as Northern Harrier, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark.

Audubon New York looks forward to participating in the NRDA plan public comment period to ensure the proposed recreational and ecological restoration projects are designed and implemented in a way that will protect Onondaga Lake’s birds and the habitats that they need to survive.

Audubon New York is the state’s leading voice for the conservation and protection of natural resources for birds. Integrating science, conservation, policy and education, Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitat for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. With 50,000 members and 27 affiliated chapters state-wide, Audubon New York oversees seven sanctuaries and centers, from Long Island to western New York, and protects priority habitats, including more than 130 Important Bird Areas identified as critical for the conservation of birds.