New method of restoring wetlands successful along Gulf Coast
More than 135 acres of prairie wetland habitat have been restored near Houston with a new method that may help additional acreages be recovered, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
The prairie wetlands at Sheldon Lake State Park have been restored over a 10-year period using a novel approach of re-excavating soil covered up by other land-use situations, particularly agriculture, said Marissa Sipocz, AgriLife Extension wetland program manager in Houston.
“The method we have used has changed how freshwater prairie wetland restoration and creation will take place along the Gulf Coast,” Sipocz said. “The genius of this method relies on its simplicity: re-excavation of the original soils.”
The method, called “Sheldon-Sipocz,” uses high-tech, precision equipment to dig added soil out of an area until the original soils are exposed. These hydric soils are more conducive to the growth of plants that thrive in shallow water.
The method was pioneered by Andy Sipocz, biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Prior to this method, wetland areas were commonly created by digging a depression or pond randomly on the landscape, often not in the type of environment and soils that encouraged wetland plant growth, Marissa Sipocz explained.
She said beginning in 2003, AgriLife Extension partnered with Texas Sea Grant, TPWD, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin restoration of the Sheldon Lake State Park.
“The goal was to transform the park into a recreational haven within the city limits of Houston,” Sipocz said, “and to provide the public with a glimpse of the region’s natural landscape.”
The area originally was coastal prairie with pine and oak tree savannas dotted by marsh basins, a landscape that once covered millions of acres along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, according to the wetland team, which includes people with the Texas Master Naturalist program, TPWD and AgriLife Extension.
“Wetlands also store rainfall runoff and remove pollutants from surface waters, thus reducing downstream flooding and improving the water quality of Carpenters Bayou and Galveston Bay,” she said.
Restoration of Sheldon’s wetlands thus far has occurred in three phases with the Wetlands Restoration Team, Texas Master Naturalists and local high school students planting the water-inundated basins.
In all, more than 7,500 hours were volunteered along with some 3,000 hours given by students to plant about 123,000 native wetland plants.
For more information, read the full news release at AgriLife TODAY.