People Behind a Stronger Coast: Eric Derleth

Eric Derleth shows Rebecca Wodder, former Senior Advisor to Secretary of the Interior, a photo of a removed dam in 2012. Credit: Jan Rowan/USFWS

Eric Derleth shows Rebecca Wodder, former Senior Advisor to Secretary of the Interior, a photo of a removed dam in 2012. Credit: Jan Rowan/USFWS

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 pauses for a photo with members of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services during removal of the Homestead Woolen Mill Dam, Asheulot River, West Swanzey, NH (2010) Credit: USFWS

Derleth pauses for a photo with members of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services during removal of the Homestead Woolen Mill Dam, Asheulot River, West Swanzey, NH (2010) Credit: USFWS

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.

Eric Derleth, center, received the prestigious John S. Gottschalk Partnership Award in 2014 for success in building diverse and productive partnerships - vital to the Service fulfilling it's conservation mission.  Credit: USFWS

Eric Derleth, center, received the prestigious John S. Gottschalk Partnership Award in 2014 for success in building diverse and productive partnerships – vital to the Service fulfilling it’s conservation mission.
Credit: USFWS

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 delivering a speech at the Plymco Dam Removal Dedication Event (2015) Credit: MA Dept. Fish and Game

Derleth delivering a speech at the Plymco Dam Removal Dedication Event (2015) Credit: MA Dept. of Fish and Game

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.

Learn more about all Hurricane Sandy projects led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Northeast region

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