Monday, June 18, 2012

Reviving a river: From the coast

Last week we celebrated the beginning of dam removal at the Great Works Dam in the Penobscot River in Maine. Today, you’ll hear from senior biologist Jed Wright in our Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. This office provided the project with the first federal funding and is making major contributions to restoring fish passage throughout the Penobscot River watershed.

The Gulf of Maine Coastal Program has been a strong supporter of the Penobscot River Restoration Project. We’ve provided both funding and technical assistance to the project, and we’re now building upon this unique opportunity by identifying and implementing priority fish passage projects at dams and road crossings throughout the Penobscot River. 

Our office recognized the exceptional significance of the Penobscot River Restoration Project early on, and we provided a $1 million grant through the Maine Atlantic Salmon Conservation Fund. We then helped secure additional federal funding through Endangered Species Recovery and National Coastal Wetland Grant proposals. 

We are now partnering with a variety of agencies, nonprofits and private landowners to connect ponds and streams throughout the Penobscot River watershed. Our office has partnered with state and local agencies and NGOs to survey more than 4,500 culverts and small dams in the watershed (see map). These surveys help us identify barriers and prioritize projects that benefit sea-run and native fish such as Atlantic salmon, alewives and Eastern brook trout. Later this summer you’ll be hearing from one of our seasonal field staff about their experiences surveying hundreds of culverts.

Surveying dam
Summer field crews survey road-stream crossings to identify potential fish passage barriers. 
We use this data along with habitat information to develop barrier removal priorities.
Credit: USFWS

We’re not only surveying barriers—we’re removing them, too! For instance, we helped partners restore access to a stream that flows into the Penobscot River between the Veazie and Great Works Dam. The Leonards Mills Logging Museum Dam, which dated back to the 1700s, blocked access to the 1,223-acre Chemo Pond. We helped fund the planning, permitting, design and construction for a natural-looking fishway and the Service’s fish passage engineers provided extensive technical input. We constructed the fishway by creating a nature-like channel next to the existing dam.

Working on the fishway at Leonards Mills Logging Museum Dam.
Credit: Maine Forest and Logging Musem.

Smaller scale projects are extremely important, as well, and private landowners play a major role in restoring access to smaller streams for fish like Atlantic salmon and brook trout. I’m frequently on the road meeting with private landowners and partners like the Natural Resources Conservation Service to meet at a culvert site and figure out how we can help replace the structure with a “fish-friendly” crossing. At this time of year, we are also out in the field conducting detailed surveys and providing technical assistance to design and construct properly installed culverts.

The Coastal Program's mission is to work with others to protect, restore and enhance habitat and our work focuses on building partnerships with others. To get the message out about the importance of providing fish passage at culverts we work with groups like Keeping Maine's Forests, a collaborative effort of private, public and nonprofit entities dedicated to preserving Maine's unique forest resources. 

Great things are happening with streams and rivers in Maine and we are excited to be helping to make a difference.

This is part of a series on fish passage. Read the other blog posts here.

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