A Golf Course Wildlife Program


(This column was first published in the April 9, 2001 Buffalo News.)


     Lawns are wildlife deserts. Suburban yards are bad enough but what are golf courses if not extensive collections of low-cut lawns. Following that syllogism to its logical conclusion, environmentalists dislike golf courses.


     While they can do little to change their tees, fairways and greens, some country clubs are responding to our -- and their -- concern for wildlife in other ways. The Tan Tara Golf Club on Tonawanda Creek Road in North Tonawanda is one of them.


     Joe Stein, the Tan Tara superintendent, is going through the intensive process of preparing his course for certification as a sanctuary by Audubon International. (Audubon International is an organization based in Selkirk, NY not affiliated with the National Audubon Society.)


     Joe took me on a tour of his course to show me his activities in response to the certification requirements. Many of the fairways were still covered by snow or meltwater so we rode for most of the way in a golf cart along asphalt-paved walkways. Our route took us through deep puddles that I was afraid would short out the cart's motor. It was a sunny afternoon but an icy breeze made me turn up my coat collar. Flying directly into that wind were red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures, early migrants.


     The course itself is mostly open with lines of tall ash, maple, oak and even elm trees between fairways. Along its east and west sides are thicker woodlands. A drainage ditch along the east edge is filled with shrubbery; it's a perfect site for songbirds. Joe, whose ornithological credentials were immediately established when he told me that he began his birdwatching with Harold Mitchell, later showed me his species list for the course. His total of 140 is substantially better than the even hundred I have found in Nature View Park directly across Tonawanda Creek.


     Next to one of the ponds stood a newly-erected martin house. Purple martins had not yet arrived in this area and we discussed Joe's possible use of taped calls to attract the birds. While we were talking we passed the extensive butterfly garden, now containing only the brown remains of last year's flowers.


     Farther out there are many bluebird houses and, sure enough, we found three pairs of these lovely birds already establishing residence. The previous year all of the 14 houses were occupied by bluebirds or tree swallows. Nest boxes for bats and at the edge of the woods kestrel, screech-owl and wood duck have also been erected but with less success in attracting tenants. A local girl scout troop is monitoring these nest boxes and more are being added each year.


     A major change that is surely affecting duffers like me is the grass that constitutes the rough between fairways. Much of it is now left unmowed. Already, Joe told me, these areas are attracting meadowlarks, bobolinks and savannah sparrows -- as well as, I'm sure, complaints from cranky golfers.


     Birds are not the only wildlife here. Joe has seen foxes, coyotes, skunks and opossums. Some, like deer, meadow voles and Japanese beetles, represent problems, but now strict low toxicity pesticides are being used and those only when other control methods fail.


     Back in his office Joe showed me the six detailed standards he must meet for certification -- environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, integrated pest management, water conservation, water quality management and outreach and education. He's already filled a full notebook of reports.


     This is an excellent program and the Tan Tara Golf Club deserves recognition for meeting these stiff requirements. I encourage other clubs to follow their lead.-- Gerry Rising