The Restoration of the Bronx River

Beaver on the Bronx River Photo
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Amidst the Bronx’s miles of highways and railways, another force steadily rushes by: the Bronx River. Once plagued by pollution and neglect, today the New York waterway is home to alewife herring, night herons and egrets, muskrats, and even a lone beaver. The return of native wildlife is proof of the river’s improving health, and a testimony to community restoration efforts by WCS and other local groups.

Challenges

In the course of New York City’s long history, the river has been vitally changed by human activities—from waste dumping to damming for local industries. It is our task to return it as best as possible to its natural state. For restoration efforts to be truly successful, it requires the investment of the communities that live along the river’s banks. Our goal, then, is to rehabilitate the river as a vital recreational and educational resource for the Bronx.

What WCS is Doing

WCS is committed to conservation efforts in its own backyard. The Bronx Zoo’s Mitsubishi Riverwalk nature trail protects acres of the Bronx River watershed and highlights the many native species that thrive here. Along the zoo’s riverbanks, visitors can occasionally catch a glimpse of the first wild beaver to return to New York City in more than 200 years. The industrious creature goes by “José,” in honor of Bronx Congressman José E. Serrano, whose devotion to restoring the Bronx River has helped secure $14.5 million in dedicated federal grants.

WCS has also been working to rehabilitate the river’s passageways for native fish such as alewife herring in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2006, with WCS support and the aid of other local organizations, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group released a school of herring into the river’s channel on Bronx Zoo grounds. Our hope was that the fish would spawn, and their young would migrate out to sea, then return to the channel to lay the eggs for the next generation. We are currently working with our partners to establish fish passageways alongside the river’s dams that would allow alewife herring and other native fish to move between their freshwater and saltwater habitats.

Other WCS projects to monitor habitat along the river include a study of the songbirds that stop over at the Zoo’s riverbanks as they wing their way toward their northern breeding and southern wintering grounds. Bronx Zoo ornithologists are studying the migrants to determine whether they are able to get their fill of bird food in New York’s crucial stopover points—those nutritious green spaces that are few and far between, from a bird’s-eye-view.

From the Newsroom

Restoring Waterways is CrucialJanuary 11, 2013

WCS teamed up with New York Congressman José Serrano to pen an op-ed in Crain's New York Business. Serrano and John Calvelli--WCS's Executive Vice President of Public Affairs--discuss restoration of the Bronx River, reiterating that its cleanup provides a model for urban waters initiatives around the country. 

The Bronx Zoo BirdersJuly 21, 2010

At WCS’s Bronx Zoo, a group of WCS birders have been surveying the grounds for nesting wild birds. They’re turning up some surprising finds, and in some surprising places—from ducklings swimming in the once blighted Bronx River to songbirds nesting in exhibit signage. Take a birding tour of the zoo with WCS publicist John Delaney.

A Fat Bird is a Happy BirdNovember 20, 2007

WCS ornithologists are discovering that New York City is bug heaven for hungry songbirds passing through on their way to northern breeding and southern wintering grounds.

Beaver Takes a Bite of the Big AppleFebruary 23, 2006

After an absence from NYC since colonial times, the beaver has returned, taking up residence at the Bronx Zoo, along the banks of the Bronx River.

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