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Stewardship Project Example from John Heinz at Tinicum NWR

Environmental Issue: Pipeline Oil Spill

On February 5th, 2000 a 192,000 gallon oil spill occurred on the refuge. One of the five Sunoco pipelines that are located under the eastern end of the refuge developed a three-inch crack. More than a foot of snow and ice on the ground and the 145-acre impoundment prevented quick detection of the leak. A hiker reported smelling petroleum and a refuge employee discovered the spill.

Fortunately, environmental damage to the adjacent 145-acre impoundment was limited because of a thick layer of ice on the impoundment and the quick deployment of a containment boom. Crews cut a foot-wide perimeter trough around the spill site with chainsaws. The spill area was contained to about 2 acres. Luckily, no birds were impacted. Aquatic wildlife was not as lucky. Eighteen turtles were recovered in the oils spill area. They were treated and rehabilitated by Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Inc. The 18 turtles were fitted with radio transmitters and re-released on the refuge as part of a Drexel University study on the effects of oil on turtle survival, ecology, and reproduction.

It took a month of skimming and siphoning to remove the oil from the impoundment. The damaged section of the cracked pipe was removed and replaced. Extensive contaminated soil excavation continues. The Trolley Bed trail and the Haul Road still remain closed to visitors for their own safety.

In order to improve leak detection in the future, a 50 foot corridor was cleared of trees and brush through the former "Warbler Woods." In the spring of 2000, the refuge decided to manage the corridor as grassland and edge habitat to the benefit of many wildlife species.

Refuge Response:
Environmental Education Opportunity

The oil spill in February of 2000 and damage sustained by hurricane Floyd in September of 1999 combined to have large ecological damage to the refuge. At the same time, a generous financial contribution by a local Audubon Chapter, earmarked especially for an educational restoration project, was received. Refuge staff moved forward in consulting experts, who were repairing the pipeline, and area biologists before determining that there were several opportunities for the community to assist the refuge in restoring the area.

A partnership between the Education and Outreach staff at John Heinz NWR and nearby schools, who had already been using the refuge as an extension to their classroom, saw this environmental tragedy as an opportunity to take learning one step further.

The first part of the restoration project focused on an area just off the original trail that was overgrown with several invasive plants. Non-native flora like purple loosestrife, bitter sweet have begun taking away habitat and valuable food sources from native animals and plants at Tinicum as well as most public lands.

Use this website to learn more about the invasive species issue:

Beginning in the Spring of 2000, over 200 students and teachers from the nearby Pepper, Turner and Tilden Middle Schools, lead by staff at John Heinz NWR, implemented a restoration project for the affected area. (picture of girl writing on stump)

Steps included:
  • Working with resource specialists to learn more about grassland and edge habitat management
  • Collecting information about the flora and fauna of the area and why the restoration was important
  • Remove plants identified as invasive species
  • Identifying native plants to be replanted in the cleaned up area
After an introduction outlining the importance of this restoration project, it took several visits from different classes for the first step of the project to be implemented. Pictured is a student racking an area where various invasive species had been removed, preparing the area to be replanted. Picture of girl raking and picture of girls planting

7th 9th grade students from the three Middle Schools then took on the task of replanting various wetland and aquatic plants in the area known as 'Warbler Woods.'

If you compare this picture with the previous one, you can see the increased density of shrubs and other underbrush in the corridor. Would this be considered a positive or negative outcome to the school's restoration and habitat management project? Why or why not? Picture of woods after restoration work

The second half of the restoration project focused on recreational opportunities for visitors. Due to path of the pipeline, it was established that the path needed to be diverted as well as the reconstruction of the hurricane battered boardwalk. Picture of boys hammering and picture of finished deck Supervised by experts and staff, students work on the new boardwalk. The finished product pictured below.

Students and volunteers are returning to Tinicum NWR the first week of June to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the refuge. Along with other celebrations, students will have a workday to continue the restoration project, explained above, investing in the ongoing removal of the persistent invasive species. Picture of JH NWR at dusk

Picture taken from the newly constructed boardwalk offers beautiful views and wildlife viewing opportunities at Tinicum NWR.

The project explained in this Road to Restoration field trip is just one of the exciting action projects taking place in communities and on refuges around the country. To learn more about organizing these types of projects in your community, call your local refuge.


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Last updated: October 7, 2008
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