In the first weekend of January, still frozen though in a noncommittal way, I was stunned to see throngs of robins clustering in the red fruited flowering crabtrees along Kreager Park’s soccer field parking lot. With 20 robins to a tree, it was like Hitchcock’s The Birds.
By Wednesday, they had doubled or tripled in number. As I walked the southern edge of Kreager’s woods, They were stripping shriveled berries and seeds from vines and bushes. The surrounding lawns had thawed to an agreeable extent. There a robin army hunted a meaty second course.
Alas, these opportunistic refugees from the storm front that drove them north will find no such buffet along the riverbanks in the Fort Wayne area due to the Army Corps of Engineers’ thorough removal of plants and trees. Despite local groups’ work to naturalize the riverbanks and levees along the Maumee River, seven years’ work was efficiently erased by Corps of Engineers subcontractors who tore out trees, bushes, shrubs, vines, wildflowers and seedy weeds, leaving only a scruffy shag of burnt-looking and limp grass. This mat of dead grasses will offer returning bird populations nothing but an unobstructed view of rivers that offer neither food nor shelter.
Years of study have demonstrated that restoring native plants and grasses that thrive along rivers helps reduce runoff, stabilize soil and reduce pollution by absorbing nutrients that would otherwise feed blue-green algae. Preventing silty erosion, soil and extra agricultural byproducts from entering our rivers helps improve water quality. Fort Wayne residents do not want another Grand Lake St. Marys, which exceeded safe for swimming levels of mycrocycstin (20 parts per billion) in 2008, reached 80 ppb in 2009 and 2000 ppb in 2010. Dogs died last year in our Salamonie Reservoir from those same toxins. It is a warning of the effect on our rivers: The Maumee feeds that lake in Celina. Is this the destiny of our lakes and rivers, too?
Save the Maumee, now merged with Lake Erie Waterkeepers, saw seven years of restoration work ripped out without notice, despite having a charter to do this work. Answers have not been forthcoming. Shabby treatment for committed, informed volunteers, and bad news for birds, all the way to Celina.