People Behind a Stronger Coast: Eric Derleth
Eric Derleth’s conservation roots sprouted at an early age.
He always liked biology in high school. In the late sixties and early seventies, Derleth says he and his peers had “a huge interest” in entering the environmental field. “A whole generation of folks beginning their college careers at that time got extremely interested in the environment because there were lots of bad things happening out there. Everybody wanted to help.”
Derleth’s passion for the environment has sparked a 37-year long career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He studied migratory birds as part of his master’s thesis, specifically the effects of habitat management on local American woodcock populations. In 1991, during the early stages of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Derleth spent three years working on habitat restoration as a wildlife biologist. Later, he completed several freshwater restoration projects on private lands surrounding Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.
“I loved the work (for habitat restoration) because you can actually see the results of your labor,” he says. “It’s really gratifying to visit these types of projects and watch them change through time.”
Derleth’s achievements were formally recognized in 2014 when he received the John S. Gottschalk Partnership Award for his success in building diverse and productive partnerships to restore some of the region’s most cherished ecosystems.
As Partners for Fish and Wildlife coordinator for New England, Derleth is continuing that work today by managing four current projects in Massachusetts supported by Hurricane Sandy resilience funding. Three of the four – Muddy Creek, Parkers River and Round Hill – are tidal marsh restoration projects in coastal Massachusetts. The fourth is removal of the West Britannia Dam on the Mill River in Taunton, Mass.
Derleth says the Service wouldn’t normally be able to take on all four projects at once; but $10 million in Sandy funds have provided an opportunity for the agency – working in collaboration with several municipal, state and federal partners – to put a lot of conservation on the ground.
“Ecologically, one of the reasons the Service is really interested in these projects is because we want to restore habitat for migratory birds and migratory fish,” Derleth says. “We hope we’re building conditions that will enable the system to be self sustaining and more resilient to the next Sandy-type storm event.”
Like the diversity of ecosystems he’s spent decades to conserve, Derleth says his diversity of experiences have resulted in fulfilling work that will endure for years to come.
“I have no regrets,” he says.