The Corp's Natural Resource Stewardship Mission is to manage and conserve the Canal's natural resources consistent with ecosystem management principles while providing quality public outdoor recreation experiences to serve the needs of present and future generations.
The Cape Cod Canal is located within the coastal eco-region of the state of Massachusetts. The waterway bisects the town of Bourne, with the eastern end in Sandwich. The property includes 982 acres of project land situated along the 7.4 mile land cut. The Canal's project land also includes areas at Stony Point and Mashnee Dikes and Wings Neck. Much of the Canal consists of a narrow (generally less than 500 foot wide) strip of land. More extensive government holdings exist at Scusset marsh and beach, the Midway area and areas near the Cape Cod Canal Railroad, Bourne and Sagamore Bridges and the Cape Cod Canal administration office.
Overall, about 20 percent of the project area has been developed, which is defined as roads, buildings, parking areas, turf (lawn) and other areas without natural self sustaining plant communities. The remaining 80 percent of the land (885 acres) is undeveloped and primarily forested. About 85 percent of the undeveloped land is upland and 15 percent wetland. The project includes about 575 acres of sub tidal habitat within the land cut and about 750 acres within the Buzzards Bay channel reaches.
Land adjacent to government property near the canal varies from undeveloped forestland to heavily developed residential and commercial areas. Project land at the western (Buzzards Bay and Bourne) and eastern (Sandwich) end of the canal is most heavily developed. Land near Corps property between the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges is lightly developed or undeveloped. At the Midway area south of the canal, the project is contiguous with lightly developed land belonging to Otis Air Force Base.
The Canal property includes many plant and animal species more commonly found more to our south. These species survive this far north courtesy of a marine climate that moderates the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The Canal receives on average about 46 inches of precipitation per year, which varies greatly from year to year. There is more than sufficient precipitation to support forests and mesic (neither very wet nor very dry) conditions. In areas where the soils drain quickly, (such as on sand) have few nutrients available, or there is strong salt spray or wind influence from the ocean, the natural vegetation usually reflects the more stressful conditions, and species of drier areas predominate. The most stressed areas will often support more open, shorter vegetation, and an animal community that has adapted to the harsher conditions.
Overall, Canal property is a highly disturbed area, which adds to the diversity of habitats occurring throughout the land-cut. However, there are many species of non-native plants that detract from the habitat for native species.
Osprey Nesting Platforms
The Canal staff has constructed and installed five Osprey nesting platforms with volunteer help from Ameri-Corps (Cape Cod) and the Cape Cod and Island Council, Boy Scouts of America. The Ameri-Corps volunteers erected nesting platforms on utility poles at Stony Point Dike, Mashnee Island, Dykes Creek and most recently at Scusset Marsh. The Boy Scouts of America constructed and installed a single nesting pole in Scusset Marsh as an Eagle Scout Project.
The purpose of the artificial platforms is to encourage nesting opportunities for Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) to reproduce in the canal's protected environment while providing viewing opportunities as part of the Watchable Wildlife Program.
The platforms may take as long as five years to be occupied by a pair of nesting osprey. This past summer however, the Stony Point nesting site was occupied within a few months after installation and a nesting pair of Osprey, resulted in a single fledged Osprey chick.
The Canal's Resource Management Staff and representatives from The Mass. Audubon Society engage in coordinated efforts to monitor, protect, and document Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) nesting sites. Piping Plovers have nested on Canal property at Scusset Beach, Stony Point and Mashnee Dikes.
The conservation program is designed to increase nesting population numbers and survivability of newly hatched Piping Plovers. This program has been moderately successful over the past five breeding seasons with the Plovers expanding their nesting areas, number of nesting sites, hatchlings, and fledged chicks. To learn more, visit the Audubon Society's website at: www.audubon.org.
To learn what is being done locally, visit the Massachusetts Audubon Society's "Coastal Waterbird Program" website at: http://massaudubon.org/cwp.
Cavity Nesting Program
The Canal staff constructed, installed, and maintains nesting boxes to increase breeding opportunities for screech owls on Corps property.
These boxes are located at the northern woodlot west of the Sagamore Bridge, and the woodland west of the Gallo Ice Rink. The Sagamore nest site has been occupied by Screech Owls (Otus asio) while the Gallo site has had a problem with Gray Squirrels occupying the nesting box. The program has had mixed results due to the squirrels preference for nesting in these boxes.
Our goal at the Bournedale Herring run is to maintain a sustainable population of Alewife and Blueback herring. The Corps is responsible for the herring run between the run's entrance on the Canal and the Route 6 underpass (Bourne Scenic Highway). We perform annual cleaning and inspection of the run's fish ladders, weirs and resting pools.
In a cooperative effort, the Canal partners with the Town of Bourne (Department of Natural Resources) and the State of Massachusetts (Division of Marine Fisheries) jointly consulting with each other in regard to herring run management practices, monitoring the catching service and overseeing regulation enforcement. For information on regulations contact the Town of Bourne's Natural Resource Dept. at:www.townofbourne.com
The Cape Cod Canal has entered into cooperative agreement with The Center for Coastal Studies, Right Whale Early Warning System. The agreement's goal is to reduce commercial vessel collisions with endangered Right Whales, through broadcasting Right Whale sighting reports to vessel operators so that collisions with Right Whales may be avoided. The Canal's Marine Traffic Controller is responsible for monitoring Right Whale activity reports, and broadcasting Mariner Notices to all commercial vessel traffic using the Canal. The Marine Traffic Controller will dispatch a patrol-boat establish to a safety zone around a Right whale or any large marine mammal that is observed in the Canal or its approach channels. For more information on marine mammals contact the Center for Coastal Studies, the Marine Life Center or the Cape Cod Stranding Network at: www.coastalstudies.org/ or www.nmlc.org orwww.capecodstranding.net.
Rare Threatened, or Endangered Plants
The Resource Management staff has initiated a vegetative clearing program at the Railroad Bridge's southern dredge spoil area and along the service roads. The removal of woody vegetation promotes grassland and heathland habitat essential to New England Blazing Star, Wild Lupine, Narrow-leave Bushclover, Bluestem grass, Poverty grass, Bushy Rock Rose, and Nuttall's Milkwort.
The Canal's role in combating invasive species has focused on inventorying areas of concentration and evaluating the effectiveness of herbicide applications on specific invasive species. We control invasive plants at our rare species sites by means of mechanical removal. The targeted species include Asiatic Bittersweet, Japanese Knottweed and Glossy Buckthorn. Herbicide application followed by mechanical mowing has had limited success in controlling the Canal's invasive species.
Cape Cod's pre-colonial, forest was comprised primarily of oak, pine, beech, sassafras and lesser amounts of American chestnut (Castanea dentate). During the late 1800s, the American chestnut was the most dominate hardwood tree species in the Eastern United States comprising approximately 25% of the eastern, deciduous hardwood forest. When the chestnut blight arrived in 1904, it virtually eliminated the species as a forest tree; some have survived, although mostly as small trees or shrubs.
The Canal has two small surviving American chestnut trees along the Bournedale Hills Trail. In an effort to restore the Chestnut to its previous range throughout the Canal, we are partnering with the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. Through our cooperation, we are attempting to cross-pollinate the native Bournedale trees with advanced research pollen in order to breed blight resistant progeny. We are attempting to plant a regional cross-pollinating orchard behind the Midway Recreation area for native American chestnut trees. We have planted a demonstration plot at the Sagamore marsh to display the devastating effects of the chestnut blight on native American chestnut trees. Additional information about the American chestnut can be found at: http://www.acf.org/.
Sagamore Marsh Restoration
The Sagamore Marsh restoration project is one of the largest wetland restoration projects ever undertaken in New England. Tidal flushing of the Sagamore Marsh was restricted in the mid 1930s when the Cape Cod Canal was widened and deepened, creating a fresh and brackish water system. A 48-inch diameter culvert was constructed as part of the Canal reconstruction to drain runoff from the marsh into the Canal. This culvert proved inadequate to provide sufficient tidal flushing to maintain the salt marsh.
Various alternatives were examined to restore the salt marsh. The one that provides the maximum project benefit called for replacing the 48-inch culvert with two 6-foot high by 6-foot wide reinforced concrete box culverts under each road, installing electric sluice gates, deepening the man-made channel and widening the channel from 4-feet to 12-feet.
The Sagamore Marsh Project was under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. The National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the EPA provided expert scientific analyses in support of this ecological restoration project.