Tag Archives: Blog

Sprucing Up the Place

Every year Earth Day is a time to celebrate our wonderful planet and the amazing resources it has to offer. From cascading waterfalls nestled in the mountains to the blooming flowers on the desert floor, the Earth has given us awe-inspiring sites, artistic inspiration, and consumable resources. But with increasing urbanization, changing climate, and widespread diseases, our planet is in need of our help. In West Virginia, where Earth Day is every day, people are lending a “limb” to help deter forest degradation and fragmentation.




Many organizations, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, have come
together in common interest to restore the disappearing red spruce to conserve the biodiversity of the region. More than 500,000 acres across Central Appalachia’s high elevations were once covered by red spruce forest. Less than 10 percent of that remains today. What is left is limited to fragmented high ridge tops and protected coves. Red spruce forests are home to over 300 rare plant and animal species including the West Virginia Northern flying squirrel, Cheat Mountain salamander, and the native brook trout.


This Earth Day, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge planted nearly 2,500 trees with the help of 62 volunteers. Lauren Merrill, AmeriCorps member serving with the refuge and co-host of the tree planting event, said, “It was raining when the event started, and some people didn’t have rain jackets. Some people even came in shorts! The WVU’s Sierra Student Coalition really pulled through and brought a large group. Everyone was great…” The refuge will have a 4H group come out in May to bring the total to 3,000 planted red spruce. Another organization that held a red spruce planting on Earth Day was The Nature Conservancy at Blackwater Falls State Park. Two AmeriCorps members from our office assisted with restoration efforts.
IMG_20170421_105545622_HDR.jpg IMG_20170421_105738057.jpg IMG_20170421_105547257.jpg








Even though the Earth Day festivities have come and gone, it’s a reminder to plant a seed today to ensure the heath and growth of tomorrow.

To get involved in events as described in this article please visit –https://www.fws.gov/refuges/.

Welcome Back — Where Have You Been?

This time of year, piping plovers are returning to beaches up and down the East Coast, preparing to lay eggs and raise chicks in their summer homes. But where have these shorebirds been all winter? Biologists have wondered this for years, and they’re gradually gathering answers.

Piping plovers nest on beaches throughout the northeastern U.S. and Atlantic Canada. Credit: Kaiti Titherington/USFWS

Piping plovers are found only in North America, with a total of about 8,000 birds. There are three breeding populations, each listed as either threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Known range of piping plovers, 2004. Credit: USFWS

Many of the birds that nest in the northern U.S. and Canada spend winters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southern U.S. and in Mexico and the Caribbean. They spread out across a large area that has not been as well surveyed as their breeding grounds, so new wintering areas are still being found. Scientists discovered in 2011 that about 1,000 birds, or roughly one-third of the Atlantic Coast population, winters in the Bahamas.

That still leaves a lot unaccounted for in the colder months. Surely there are other spots in the Caribbean where piping plovers spend half their lives.

Typical piping plover habitat. Credit: Craig Watson/USFWS

In 2016, a team of scientists from the Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Coastal Resources counted wintering piping plovers on Turks and Caicos during the International Plover Census. It was the first organized shorebird survey done on the chain of 40 islands southeast of the Bahamas. They were pleased to find 96 plovers.

Location of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Credit: Google Earth

The same group, bolstered by staff from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Turks & Caicos National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (United Kingdom) and SWA Environmental, fanned out to cover more areas this winter and found 174 piping plovers, an increase of 78 over last year.

Biologists search for plovers from a distance. Credit: Craig Watson/USFWS

Although the numbers may not sound impressive, they are significant. They show that the Turks and Caicos Islands are a major wintering area for piping plovers. Eighty-eight of the birds were found in one place, which could qualify the site for listing as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

According to Caleb Spiegel, a biologist with the Service and member of the survey team, “It goes to show that multiple years of surveys are critical to understanding populations, since there may be variation in how sites are used each year.”

A flock of shorebirds surveyed in the Turks and Caicos. Credit: Craig Watson/USFWS

Ten of the piping plovers that were spotted in Turks and Caicos this year sported leg bands that identified them as mature birds that were banded as chicks in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Atlantic Canada. Proof positive that birds we in the Northeast consider “ours” spend half the year in Turks and Caicos.

International efforts, like the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, connect science, like that gathered through this survey, with conservation. The Service hopes to work with partners to spread the word about the sites in Turks and Caicos where piping plovers were found and encourage their protection.

“We can use the example of the Bahamas,” noted Spiegel. “With extensive efforts by the Bahamian Government, the National Audubon Society, the Service, and others, those sites were named Important Bird Areas, and one was later protected as a National Park.”

Two piping plovers in pale winter plumage. During breeding season, they have dark neck rings and brow bands. Credit: Craig Watson/USFWS

In addition to piping plovers, biologists discovered about 400 red knots, another threatened shorebird, in 2017. Historically, there have been few sightings of this bird in Turks and Caicos, and none were seen in the 2016 survey. The birds were found on a sand bar that was not surveyed the previous year.

As migratory birds, piping plovers and red knots need both a home and a home-away-from-home. The discovery of new wintering sites in the Turks and Caicos Islands is big news for these little birds and the people who support them.

Click here to learn more about the 2017 Piping Plover Survey in Turks and Caicos.

To learn more about piping plovers, visit the following links: The Search Is on for Piping Plovers blog and our Piping Plover webpage!

Beyond the dam, a new vision for resilient communities

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

There was a time when small dams throughout the Northeast were the cores of their communities. Often the next major structure to be built after the church, the dam harnessed waterpower to process corn for sustenance and lumber for shelter. Later, dams produced energy to make textiles to be shipped far and wide, providing jobs and pumping dollars into local economies. Still others offered chances for recreation like swimming and fishing.

These days, many small dams have not only outlived their usefulness, they are liabilities for wildlife and local communities. Thousands in the Northeast are obsolete and not maintained. More than 25 percent are high-hazard, posing a big risk of failure that could flood nearby areas. Once central to community life, many dams are now barriers to progress, impeding economic growth, recreation, and tourism, while also blocking wildlife migration.


The removal of Two Lick Dam, one of three dams removed from West Virginia’s West Fork  River in 2016, allowed more than 30 miles of the river to flow freely. This encourages a healthier river that flushes nutrients, pollutants and sediment, supporting thriving fish and freshwater mussel populations and enhanced fishing for smallmouth bass and muskellunge. Credit: USFWS

American Rivers, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., announced in February a list of 72 dams that were removed from waterways across the country in 2016, restoring more than 2,100 miles of river and stream habitat to a free-flowing state. Thirty-one were in the Northeast, with Pennsylvania leading the country for the 14th straight time, at 10.

The list includes several projects supported by the Service, such as removal of Hughesville Dam on the Musconetcong River in New Jersey, which will help restore fish and wildlife and water quality in this federally designated Wild and Scenic River. Or the removal of three dams on the West Fork River in West Virginia, which opened up 490 miles of habitat for endangered freshwater mussels and native species of fish, increased recreational access for paddlers on the water trail, and is even helping the Clarksburg Water Board save money on chemical costs to treat water.

Since 2009, the Service has worked with partners from Maine to West Virginia to remove more than 450 barriers to fish passage — including dams, culverts, and road-stream crossings — and connect nearly 4,000 miles of rivers, creeks, and wetlands. Since 2013, federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects has supported the removal of seven dams in the Northeast, with five more in process or scheduled.

Two dams on American Rivers’ 2016 list tell the story of how the Service and partners are helping communities adapt to changing conditions and realize a new vision of healthy, safe and connected river systems for people and wildlife.

Long Run Dam, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, to offer a place for employees at the nearby CCC camp to swim and fish. The 7.5-foot-high and 276-foot-long stone masonry dam blocked the free passage of wild brook trout and other fish. It had fallen into disrepair, and the area above the barrier was filled with sediment.

The Service’s Fish Passage Program funded the removal project, and multiple partners worked together to improve water quality and let trout reach important upstream habitat. Because the dam was historically notable, remnants were left both underwater and along the shore to allow access by those interested in the past.


The Service’s Fish Passage Program funded the removal of Long Run Dam, near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Multiple partners worked together to improve water quality and let trout reach important upstream habitat. Credit: USFWS

According to Mark Roberts, coordinator for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Pennsylvania, “This project shows that when like-minded people get together, they can produce results that benefit both wildlife and local communities.”

The Norton Paper Mill Dam, on the Jeremy River in Colchester, Connecticut, was built in the early 1800s. Until the 1960s, the mill was the focal point of the Westchester section of the town, supplying jobs for villagers and nearby farmers alike. Nearly 20-feet high, it blocked the upstream movement of migratory fish, including Atlantic salmon, river herring, American eel, and Eastern brook trout.

In 2013, Nan Norton Wasniewski, a descendant of the original owner, chose to work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the town to dismantle the mill and dam. The Service funded the effort through Hurricane Sandy recovery dollars. The removal of the dam in early November 2016 opened 17 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish.

Wasniewski sold the property to the town for $1 to build a public park in her family’s name. Once a place of industry, the site is now a gateway to recreational activities, including paddling and fishing. Wherever possible and safe, artifacts from the mill will become features of the park.


Sally Harold, Director of River Restoration and Fish Passage for TNC in Connecticut. Credit: USFWS

According to Sally Harold, Director of River Restoration and Fish Passage for TNC in Connecticut, the Jeremy River is part of the high-quality Salmon River watershed, which is more than 60 percent forested.

“I live in Fairfield, Connecticut — about an hour outside New York City along the coast — and you can’t go anywhere on a river in that area without seeing houses,” said Harold. “On the Jeremy, you could canoe for an hour without seeing a single house.”

While damming a stream used to show progress, now letting water flow freely means growth. To have safe, healthy communities for both wildlife and people, we need thriving river systems. The Service and its partners are working toward that goal, one dam at a time.

(Lauri Munroe-Hultman is a writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Massachusetts.)