Fore! More Birding, Fewer Invasive Weeds

A decommissioned golf course glow-up benefits birds and local communities thanks to Lahontan Audubon Society and local partners.

It doesn’t take a bird expert to know that golf courses can be quite disturbing for birds and other wildlife. So what do you do when a golf course, built on what used to be a healthy wetland habitat for birds and other local species, is deserted? You bring the wetland back!

Bird numbers have been declining in the Truckee Meadows valley, just outside of Reno, Nevada, for quite some time. Since the 1970s, agricultural and urban projects replaced a vast network of wetlands in the area, and drove birds like Black-Headed Grosbeak and Willow Flycatcher out. One such project, the former Rosewood Lakes Golf Course, sits on one of the last vestiges of the disappearing wetlands. Invasive plants like salt cedar and tall whitetop that harm birds and the local ecosystem overran the site from the time it was decommissioned in 2015—but that’s now changing.

Elena Larsen saw an opportunity to restore some of those precious wetlands and bring the birds back to the valley. Larsen, project manager for the Truckee Meadow Parks Foundation, says the Truckee Meadows Nature Study Area project will transform 145 acres at the former Rosewood Lakes Golf Course into a healthy, high-functioning habitat. Those acres will also become a nature study area for the local community.

The official groundwork began in September 2019. With an operational grant from AmeriCorps, wetland restoration technicians worked to remove undesirable invasive species, revegetate the area with native plants, and build and maintain public infrastructure such as trails, benches, and signage. Additional funding from the National Audubon Society, via its George Whittell Nevada Environmental Fund grant, helped Larsen obtain essential equipment like a spotting scope to help with bird surveys on the restored area, and native plants for further restoration work.

David Jackling, president of Lahontan Audubon Society, says the project was a “perfect opportunity to collaborate.” As a member of the advisory board for the golf course project, Jackling helped secure the National Audubon grant for the Truckee Meadows Nature Study Area. As restoration work continues, Jackling is optimistic about what this project means for bird diversity in the area, as well as possible volunteer opportunities for his chapter’s members.

“Our chapter mostly focuses on how we can partner with local organizations to protect birds and other animals,” says Jackling.  “Our hope is for the Truckee Meadows Nature Study Area to be an educational facility where we can perform annual surveys of species diversity.”

For Stanley Senner, vice president of bird conservation at Audubon, there was definitely some hesitation before getting the restoration project approved due to its size and complexity. As the organizer of the Whittell grant review committee, Senner took a tour around the property and came to an important conclusion—this project has real potential to turn a deserted piece of land to “a gem of an urban natural area.”

“As we walked around the property, I could see that it would provide valuable wildlife habitat,” says Senner. “We know that birds in the arid west are under great stress, so this project directly contributes to Audubon’s Western Water Initiative and our desire to look for solutions that benefit both birds and people.”

Though Senner says there is still a lot of work ahead, he is hopeful that Lahontan Audubon and the Truckee Meadow Parks Foundation will be able to restore a significant parcel of bird habitat. Since groundwork began, the project’s team has already removed 48 acres of weeds and invasive species, planted 450 native plants, and enhanced approximately 1.85 miles of trails with interpretive signage and walkways for bird viewing, outdoor fieldtrips, and community science projects. Despite some setbacks due to COVID-19, Larsen, Jackling, and Senner are positive that the area will be fully rehabilitated with native plants and species within the next few years.