Author Archives: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

About U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Northeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service includes Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Jew Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Delaware, and Virginia.

Talking Turkey on Thanksgiving, Giving Thanks for what Nature Provides

Today we’re hearing from Tom Decker about turkeys and his gratitude for the bounty that nature provides to him, his family, and his community. Tom is a certified wildlife biologist with our regional Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program, as well as a Fellow with The Wildlife Society.  

While I recognize Thanksgiving as a time to give thanks, springtime is when I reflect most on the things I’m grateful for in my life.  Coincidentally, these spring reflections also revolve around turkeys, the wild kind that roam the forests and fields of New England.  

I spend many days in the field each spring picking fiddleheads, mushrooms, leeks, and trying to harvest a turkey (or two).  My family relies on the bounty of the outdoors and my household generally has moose, deer, turkey, geese and snowshoe hare in the freezer, as well as ample stocks of fish.

Each springtime hunt brings me back to my youth when I lived and worked on farms owned by German and Russian immigrants.  My family had owned and farmed these lands since the mid 1800s, yet we never got to experience the sights or sounds of wild turkeys as they were virtually non-existent in much of the northeast when I was growing up.  Turkeys  were plentiful when the English, Dutch and French colonists arrived in the region, but they were virtually eliminated from New England by the early 1800s. Unregulated hunting and the clearing of forests for farming were so drastic that a plentiful population of turkeys virtually disappeared in short period of time. Thus, generations of my family had never heard turkeys gobble, seen flocks of birds, or found their nests in the woods, even though we worked the land for decades.

That all changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  State fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service, and chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation began a restoration program to bring turkeys back to New England.  Initial efforts releasing turkeys grown on “game farms” failed as these birds lacked the “wildness” needed to survive in nature.

With the advent of a tool called a “rocket net,” wildlife biologists were able to capture turkeys where they were plentiful in the south and transport entire flocks to new areas in the northeast that had good turkey habitat. Over a period of several decades, this technique restored robust numbers of turkeys to areas where they had been absent for over 100 years.  

Wild Turkey release

Over time, turkey populations became abundant enough that a limited hunting season was allowed under state licensing and regulations in the spring, and in some states in the fall as well.  Today, wildlife biologists track turkey harvests, examine their habitat needs, monitor their health and diseases and ensure these populations are sustainable for the future.

It’s estimated that 200,000 turkeys now roam the forests and fields of New England. The wild turkey….local food from the forest….and their calls in the chorus of birds in the spring can once again be enjoyed.  

Seeing flocks of turkeys is now as commonplace as it was during colonial times.  In fact, in 2016 21,640 turkeys were legally harvested during spring and fall seasons by hunters in our region. This equates to 239,100 pounds of edible meat for local households.  

Displaying tom wild turkey at woodland edge by Bill Byrne /MassWildlfe

We know from studies of the public who hunt, most successful hunters share their game with their family and neighbors, another cultural practice that is hundreds of years old.  I know at my house that includes wild turkey, wrapped in bacon, cooked on the grill with fiddleheads and leek salad on Mother’s Day…. another important day when I am thankful for the things in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

salt marsh Chafee NWR

October Is “Building a Stronger Coast” Month

salt marsh Chafee NWR

Restored salt marsh at Chafee National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. Credit: Ayla Fox

Hurricane season usually starts winding down in October, and we can only hope that the season closes quickly this year.

This storm season has shown just how vulnerable our coastal areas are, with 13 named storms including two category 5’s (Irma and Maria) and two category 4’s (Harvey and Jose). More than a hundred people have died in the United States and territories, and millions of people are still struggling through the aftermath of these destructive storms. Our hearts are with them, including our FWS staff who are out on the front lines in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and Texas.

Many citizens are wondering what can be done. As communities begin the arduous task of rebuilding what was lost, it’s important to consider how “natural” infrastructure can make coastlines more resilient — the marshes, wetlands, beaches, free-flowing rivers and oyster reefs that help absorb storm energy and reduce flooding.

Natural infrastructure can’t stop the storms from coming; but it can help lessen the impacts – immediately, and long into the future. Natural infrastructure reduces the impacts of storms and sea-level rise and helps communities recover more quickly. And these natural areas have huge value for wildlife and people all year round – in the form of ecotourism, outdoor recreation, cleaner water, cleaner air, improved health and more.

saltmarsh sparrow

Healthy coastal marsh habitat is critical for the survival of the saltmarsh sparrow. Credit: ACJV

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – along with many partners at the federal, state and local levels – is working with nature to build a stronger coast. We’ve been restoring marshes and beaches, building living shorelines, removing dams and conducting innovative science to help guide conservation efforts into the future.

In October we’ll be highlighting some of this work on our blog and through social media – including a dam removal in urban New Haven, Connecticut, a river restoration in Rhode Island, a beach restoration in New Jersey and more. Much of this work was funded in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which closed out the 2012 storm season with a bang on October 29.

The destruction caused by Sandy provided a window of opportunity to help wildlife and people prepare for and adapt to a changing environment by creating a more resilient coast – one that uses natural infrastructure to help lessen the damage of storms and sea-level rise while providing important natural areas that wildlife and people need.

Join us in our vision to build a #strongercoast.

Gandy's Beach oyster reef living shoreline

Gandy’s Beach in New Jersey, where new oyster reef living shorelines are helping buffer wave energy to the coast. Credit: Steve Droter

Hands On, Dam’s Gone

Today we’re hearing from Kirstin Underwood, biologist with the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, as she teams up with partners to remove a dam in a remote section of the Sunday River in Western Maine. 

For me, the most rewarding thing about being a biologist is the chance to get outside, work hard and get my hands dirty. So when I heard about a dam that would be removed entirely by hand and human power in a remote region of western Maine, of course I wanted to be a part of it!

Picture1_SRDam_Before

A derelict log dam on the Sunday River in Maine, blocking access to important cold water habitat for brook trout and other fish species. Its original purpose was to flush logs downstream from the mountains for the lumber trade

The most interesting thing about this dam in the west branch of the Sunday River was that for a long time, no one really knew it was there. During historic logging runs of the 1930’s, several log dams were built in rivers throughout Maine’s Mahoosuc Mountain Range to flush lumber downstream from the mountains. Many disintegrated or washed away overtime, but the ones that remained were built to last. Jeff Stern of the Androscoggin River Watershed Council (ARWC), key partner spearheading this project, has a special talent for locating remnant dams in remote streams of the Androscoggin watershed. He discovered this fully intact 8-foot-high dam, built with massive white pine logs and foot-long metal spikes, sometime last spring. It spanned the river fully, blocking brook trout and other fish species from accessing important coldwater habitat upstream (great places to feed, spawn and escape the summer heat). Property owner Sunday River ski resort granted permission to remove the dam, and Stern got to work with other key partners (including Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MEIFW), Project SHARE, the Maine Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office (USFWS), Trout Unlimited (TU), and the Androscoggin Valley Soil & Water Conservation District (AVSWC)) to make the removal happen.

Getting to the west branch of the Sunday River was an adventure in itself. We followed a caravan of eager workers and volunteers along several miles of dusty old logging roads. When the road ended in an overgrown logging trail, we loaded grip hoists, pry bars, and all of our other gear onto an ATV and walked a half mile to the site. Our crew was a conglomeration of people and interests: 14 scientists, fishing enthusiasts and habitat restoration specialists from MEIFW, ARWC, USFWS, Project SHARE, TU, and AVSWC all showed up to provide labor and technical expertise. Everyone sprang to action, hooking grip hoist cables to the grid of 30-foot logs that were tightly wedged in the stream bed by years of sediment deposit. When three separate grip hoists were attached to the heaviest logs, it took all of our strength to crank the handles hard enough to shake the logs from side to side, even with help from a chainsaw to weaken them! Cheers resounded whenever painstaking effort on the grip hoist finally led to a satisfying crunch as another log was wrenched free.

 

Two days, four grip hoists, a few crowbars, and one exhausted crew later, water flowed freely through the dam and fish passage was significantly improved. Though a large chunk of the structure remained in the river, enough had been removed to allow erosion to restore natural stream processes. Days after we left the site, natural restoration had already begun; high water from a storm surge washed out a huge block of dirt and gravel that had been held back by the logs for decades.

The best part of this project was actually getting out to do the work to restore fish passage, rather than sitting idly by to watch someone else do it. There is still work to do before the structure is completely removed, and I can’t wait to return to the site in fall or spring to finish.

This project was funded through a grant with the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, federal funds managed by USFWS.