Asian water buffalo help restore marsh in Delaware park

    Officials at Brandywine Creek State Park, just north of Wilmington, have borrowed two big weapons in the fight against invasive species this summer: a pair of water buffalo.

    The two newest “employees” at Brandywine live in a five-acre, fenced off area in the park’s nature preserve. The yearling domestic Asian water buffalo are named after Dickens characters: the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist. Their job? Eat a lot of grass.

    “They’re here to remove European sweet flag and reed canary grass, which are two invasive plant species that have invaded the marsh and have altered the composition of the marsh itself,” said Linda Rossell, a crew leader for the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation environmental stewardship program.

    Those two weeds have taken over about 80 percent of this freshwater marsh. They choke out native species and make the ground more solid, less marshy.

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    “They alter the root zone,” said environmental stewardship program manager Rob Line. “The reed canary has an interlocking root system that supports my weight.”

    But that is no match for the 800-pound juvenile water buffalo, which can stomp through those roots and will eat an estimated 20 pounds of grasses a day.

    Oliver and Dodger are on lease from a farm near Milford, Del., until mid-August.

    If all goes well, Line expects to continue to use water buffalo in the spring and summer months for the next few years.

    The state of New Jersey is leasing its own water buffalo for use in Warren County this summer. The Garden State believes it is the first in the country to use water buffalo for invasive species management.

    Rossell talks about her new co-workers.

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