When we work with partners to restore natural resources such as habitat, we also review opportunities to restore the public’s use of those resources. A portion of funding from the General Electric settlement for the release of PCBs in the Housatonic River in Massachusetts and Connecticut went to construct a 1-mile bike trail in New Milford, Connecticut. Credit: Molly Sperduto/USFWS
Our agency works on more than 40 polluted sites across the Northeast, from the 35-acre Batavia Landfill Superfund site in western New York to the 828,000-gallon North Cape oil spill in Rhode Island and the 6-million gallon coal slurry spill in the Powell River watershed in southwestern Virginia.
As a trustee to watch over our natural resources, we look at the effects of polluted areas on local wildlife and other natural resources. After an event like an oil spill, we work with other federal and state agencies to study the effects and restore resources through Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration, which allows injured natural resources to be restored without cost to the American taxpayers. Instead, the parties responsible for the injuries pay for the restoration.
Snye Marsh, a unique wetland along the St. Lawrence River. For decades, companies released PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), aluminum, fluoride and cyanide from the Massena, New York, plant into the St. Lawrence River environment. Credit: USFWS
This work wouldn’t happen without our awesome biologists. Today we’re featuring two of our folks, Anne Secord, environmental quality branch chief for our New York office, and Molly Sperduto, NDRAR biologist in our New England office.
Anne has led a team of trustees over 14 years to assess the injuries to natural resources, recreational fishing and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe culture resulting from the release of hazardous substances into the St. Lawrence River environment since at least the late 1950s. Just last year, the team secured a $19.4 million settlement with the responsible parties, Alcoa Inc. and Reynolds Metals Company. For the first time in this work across the nation, the responsible parties and the trustees worked cooperatively with the goal of restoring resources sooner than through litigation.
Settlement funds will be used to support a wide variety of projects to restore species and habitat; promote recreation and get youth outdoors; and support the cultural and heritage resources of the tribe.
Anne Secord with her son after a survey of a bat hibernaculum. Anne was recognized by the U.S. Department of Interior with a damage assessment award for the successful completion of the St. Lawrence case. Photo courtesy of Anne.
“Anne’s courage in pioneering a cooperative approach to natural resource damage assessment including cultural lost use, and her persistence, diligence and professionalism in dealing with the many, many complexities in this case have led to a successful settlement and more importantly restoration of injured trust resources,” says Robin Heubel, NRDAR coordinator for our region.
Just last month, Anne was recognized by the U.S. Department of Interior with a damage assessment award for the successful completion of the St. Lawrence case.
“I am rewarded by settlements like the St. Lawrence natural resource damage settlement because it demonstrates that big companies and small government agencies can work together to improve the environment,” Anne says. “In a time when many people seem disconnected from the environment, I enjoy doing my part to study what contaminants may be doing to harm fish and wildlife resources and conveying this to the public.”
The Department honored Molly with a restoration award for her work over the past 15 years with projects in multiple New England states and with our sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Molly has been a driving force in planning and implementing restoration for more than 15 individual settlements in four New England states—resulting in many miles of restored streams and thousands of acres of habitat restored, enhanced or protected.
Molly Sperduto holding a common eider in Maine. The U.S. Department of Interior honored Molly with a restoration award for her work over the past 15 years with natural resource damage assessment and restoration projects. Photo courtesy of Molly.
“Molly was one of the first Service biologists to advocate and implement restoration at a location outside the watershed or state where the injury occurred,” Robin says. “Her knowledge, skills and advocacy convinced the state of Rhode Island that loon restoration in Maine was the most appropriate and beneficial way to restore the injured resource. This practice has now become more commonplace.”
In fact, Molly has established a unique partnership to restore migratory bird injuries from a Massachusetts Superfund site by helping to support bird conservation in Belize, where many of our birds spend their winters in areas with decreasing habitat.
“The thing I enjoy most about my work is helping people connect with their environment,” Molly says. “Whether it’s by providing restoration funds to protect river corridors for wildlife and people, or working with partners to restore and revegetate a degraded stream, or taking school children to look at birds, I’m happy knowing that I’ve helped others learn about and improve the environment. Seeing others enjoy restoration areas and gain a greater appreciation of our amazing natural world is what inspires me to keep the restoration projects coming!”
Congratulations, Anne and Molly, and thanks for all you do! In addition to these awards, the Department also gave group awards to the entire St. Lawrence case team and to the Massachusetts Department of Environment.