Connecting rivers connects us

Has a river been an important part of your life?  If so, you’re not alone.  Rivers and their tributaries are literally in our own backyards according to Rebecca Wodder, Senior Advisor to Secretary of the Interior.  Wodder recently addressed over 300 participants at Fish Passage 2012, a conference at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst campus.

 Water flows freely on Yokum Brook in Becket,  Massachusetts following removal of the Ballou Dam.  Credit: Jan Rowan/USFWS.

Water flows freely on Yokum Brook in Becket, Massachusetts following removal of the Ballou Dam. Credit: Jan Rowan/USFWS.

The return of Atlantic salmon to reaches of the Kennebunk River in Maine once blocked by a 164-year old dam made a deep impression on Wodder about the resilience of rivers.  “It gave me a sense of hope,” she said.

That sense was a common theme among participants at Fish Passage 2012.  Over a hundred presentations addressed biology, hydrology, and engineering topics with the hope that our rivers  continue to provide connectivity not only for fish and wildlife, but for us as well!

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Employees at Fish Passage 2012. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Employees at Fish Passage 2012. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS

The Northeast is clearly a leader in the science of fish passage.  ‘”In the Southeast, we haven’t had much dam removal or attention to fish passage as you’ve had here in New England,” said Prescott Brownell, Hydropower Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in South Carolina. And fisheries biologists and fish passage engineers at the Northeast Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Mass., are growing that leadership.

Over the past few years they have worked with UMass to develop a degree in Master’s of Civil Engineering with Specialization in Fish Passage to meet increasing demands for highly-trained, professional fish passage engineers.

 The future of fish passage: graduates of the UMass Fish Passage Program.  Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS

The future of fish passage: graduates of the UMass Fish Passage Program. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS

Graduates of the program have already joined the Service’s Fisheries Program in Hadley, who showed Wodder some of their fish passage projects in nearby tributaries of the Westfield River along with the Service’s Northeast Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and other partners..  The dam removal and culvert projects benefit Atlantic salmon, Eastern brook trout, black-nosed dace, shiny dace, and slimy sculpin.

 Rebecca Wodders (in hoodie) meets with partners of a fish passage project: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the State of Massachusetts. Credit: Jan Rowan/USFWS

Rebecca Wodders (in hoodie) meets with partners of a fish passage project: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the State of Massachusetts. Credit: Jan Rowan/USFWS

According to Wodder, projects like these promote “green infrastructure,” which protects fish and wildlife by allowing natural processes, contributes to public safety because it is more reliable in storm events, and is more cost effective for taxpayers because it is durable.

Such projects signify a shift in approach from protecting nature from the actions of people to protecting nature for the benefit of people, said Wodder.  “Healthy rivers give us a quality of life essential to who we are as Americans,” she concluded.

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

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