Tag Archives: Coastal Program

Sometimes There’s Value in Getting a Little Mud on Your Shoes

Today we’re hearing from Brian Marsh, a biologist working at our Delaware Bay Estuary Project office. Brian’s work focuses on land and wetland restoration; however, he increasingly appreciates the value of projects working with students where the conservation value is harder to quantify.

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A flower fly on swamp sunflower at Caesar Rodney High School, Credit: Brian Marsh/USFWS

Habitat conservation today only means so much when we face a tomorrow where people don’t value the outdoors. When I work with students and teachers, I realize many of them don’t have the same relationship with the outdoors that I take for granted. Little things tip me off to the degree that some students are disconnected from nature.

For example…shoes.

Me, to a student wearing fancy kicks on planting day: “Why didn’t you bring in a different pair of shoes?”

 

Student, who doesn’t want to walk on mulch, grass, and most certainly not dirt: “Why would I have a different pair of shoes?”

To have only one pair of shoes and no mud shoes to play in? This student’s reality was so different from my own experience of only having muddy shoes at that age. Clean shoes were uncool.

I grew up on a farm, did landscaping jobs in high school and college, and have been doing restoration- oriented work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2005. So, I thought using a shovel is about as basic a thing as can be. But I was wrong. Working with the students, I further realized that they had very different experiences than I did growing up, which shaped their perception of the outdoors and the foundation for the lessons I was about to teach. I was excited to talk about how native grass plants relate to larval pollinator populations, soil health, water quality, and bird habitat, but the students needed an intro lesson first. I realized I had to redefine my square one.

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A commonly seen eastern pondhawk at Laurel High School, Credit: Brian Marsh/USFWS

Wow, the more time I spend with our younger generations the more I’m aware that connecting students to nature is “mission critical”.

Through environmental education, it’s our responsibility to work with teachers and administrators to understand the challenges they face so that we can  work to dispel the notion that all habitats are green, clean, and tidy. Some are messy, unkempt, and have brown plants. And yet, they are still perfectly good habitats. We forget that even habitat can be a radical idea to those who don’t think about it daily.

Habitat projects at schools take time, need to involve everyone, and need to be engaging to both students and school staff for them to be sustainable.

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Students need basic instruction but can really take hold of the idea of stewardship given the chance, Credit: Debbie Magnin

The Delaware Bay Estuary Project works with several schools throughout Delaware and we definitely see progress and reason for hope. Here are some examples…

Shue-Medil Middle School in Newark formed a team to create schoolyard habitat and make their school greener. Their monthly meetings are well attended by administrators, teachers, facilities staff, and students. They’re following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Guide. Team building and a supportive administration make all the difference at this school. The principal’s father is even helping by cutting nesting and bat box pieces out of cedar boards we provided and the students help make them.

A small private school in Georgetown, The Jefferson School, hired a full-time environmental education coordinator last year for their 109 students. They have a wall of boots at the back door. A little boy keeps his shovel in the principal’s office, which he collects daily to go dig outside in his free time. A state forest surrounds the school. Students work together to care for the school’s goats and chickens. Students play in an outdoor mud kitchen. Students are expected to be outside here!

In contrast in Wilmington, the Warner Elementary school’s building takes up almost every inch of their property, but they manage to have a garden and want to create habitat with us through their very dedicated student green team that already runs their recycling program.

Laurel Middle and High School is in rural Laurel Delaware and is bordered by a tributary with migratory fish runs. The Delaware Bay Estuary Project is gradually building a relationship with the school and their agribusiness teachers are stepping up to help with schoolyard habitat, including a one-acre meadow, four rain gardens, and riparian plantings in partnership with Delaware State Parks and NOAA.

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Storm water management and schoolyard habitat can go together well. This basin at Laurel High School has become a rain-garden in a high profile area, Credit: Brian Marsh/USFWS

Caesar Rodney School District has gone from having little interest in habitat to hiring a full-time environmental education specialist who has a lot of ideas and energy. The district is considering turning a property shared by a middle school, elementary school, and special-needs school into an ecocampus, which  will be a model for the district, state, and beyond! We’ve helped with creating schoolyard habitat at three of the schools in the district.

Delaware has an awesome community of organizations and federal and state partners looking to make inroads into schools to help restore connections to nature. Delaware is a small state and we should be able to move the needle here. The community has come together to form Delaware Children in Nature and the Delaware Association of Environmental Education, both of which the Delaware Bay Estuary Project is active in. More schools are showing interest. Momentum is growing because of motivated teachers, administrators, biologists willing to lend a hand and kindle a spark, and of course the students and their natural curiosity.

We have a challenge ahead of us to foster a conservation ethic but it’s an important one! I think everyone in conservation should take opportunities to work with kids to better understand the degree of disconnection to nature and the challenges it represents. And by kids I mean average students, not just the handful of kids at each school that are the outdoor loving, curious, science geeks that we can relate to.

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The Delaware Bay Estuary Project is part of the Coastal Program, a habitat conservation program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that focuses on conserving the ecological integrity of beaches, bays, estuaries, and coastal watersheds. The Delaware Bay Estuary Project works through voluntary partnerships with a variety of public and private entities, such as private landowners, land trusts, municipalities, states, and other federal agencies, to enhance, restore, conserve, study, and monitor habitat for key federal trust wildlife resources in the Delaware River and Delmarva Peninsula ecosystems.

 

Bye-bye Bottlenecks: Ensuring Safe Passage for Salmon in Maine

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

Don’t you hate it when you’re cruising along the Interstate and “Lane Closed Ahead” signs start popping up? Soon, a sea of brake lights appears, and traffic slows to a crawl, as cars squeeze through the narrowed roadway. Suddenly, getting where you want to go is much more difficult.

Perhaps this is how an Atlantic salmon feels when, making its way upstream to spawn, the waterway funnels to a small opening under a road. Its journey, one programmed into its DNA and necessary for the survival of the species, becomes many times harder than expected, if not impossible.

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Undersized culverts like this one on a tributary to the Upper Sandy River in Phillips, Maine, hinder upstream migration of fish such as Atlantic salmon and Eastern brook trout and cause road washouts. Credit: USFWS

Maine’s aging roadways are littered with undersized culverts that prevent safe passage of fish and other animals and cause costly washouts during storms. Thanks to a recent grant from the Federal government, however, many outdated culverts will be replaced with wider archways that allow water and wildlife to pass more easily.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $6 million to replace several hundred undersized culverts on private forestland in northern and eastern Maine and restore about 250 miles of waterway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the principal partners in the five-year Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project that involves large forestland owners, tribal nations, conservation groups and local operators.

The project is the nation’s top-ranked funding agreement through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by NRCS. It’s one of 88 high-impact projects across the country that will receive $225 million in Federal funding.

The Service worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to set restoration priorities and draft the project proposal. The agency will contribute more than $1.3 million, and staff will help with surveys and assessments, engineering and conceptual designs, environmental compliance, fish removal, project management and monitoring activities.

In addition to the Service and TNC, project partners include Project SHARE, Maine Audubon, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Passamaquoddy Indian Nations. As a group, the partners have pledged to match or exceed the $6 million contribution to Maine’s infrastructure.

In a typical restoration, workers remove an old, rusted culvert, perhaps three-to-four feet in diameter, and replace it with a larger arch or bridge similar in width to upstream and downstream stretches. The resulting natural stream bed and water depth and flow let fish pass through easily. Other wildlife, such as beaver, mink, muskrats, turtles, snakes and frogs, can cross under the roadway via dry banks inside of the structure. The wider passageway can accommodate floodwaters, protecting the road during storms.

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The completed project offers improved fish passage and increased protection against flooding. Credit: USFWS

The project will focus on waterways with some of the last endangered Atlantic salmon populations in the United States and critical Eastern brook trout habitat. Undersized culverts hinder the migration of these species, often keeping them from important spawning and rearing areas upstream.

While employing construction workers in the short-term, the project also will increase road stability and safety throughout Maine’s forestlands, supporting the forest industry, recreation and local economies. Healthy rivers and streams offer clean drinking water and enhanced sport fishing. Maine’s tribes will gain access to subsistence fishing, and downstream fisheries as far as the coast will benefit from improved water quality.

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Service staff from the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, Maine Field Office of Ecological Services and Moosehorn and Lake Umbagog national wildlife refuges worked together to remove the old culvert and replace it with a 12-foot-wide concrete arch. Credit: USFWS

Jed Wright, project leader of the Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, is excited to work with partners to increase the pace of restoring stream connectivity in Maine. “We’re committed to helping private landowners implement great projects by providing funding, conducting site surveys, designing replacement structures, and ensuring that construction will have minimal impact on fish and their habitats,” Wright said.

“With over 11 million acres of Maine forest in private hands,” added Kate Dempsey, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, “this project stands ultimately to influence stream-friendly management on thousands of miles of some of the best aquatic habitat in the East and spur innovations and efficiencies to influence restoration even more broadly nationally as we and our partners share lessons from this project.”

And that means more waterways with smooth sailing for species traveling upstream. Now, if we could do something about those Interstate bottlenecks….

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

Meet the new leader of the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program!

Meet Jed Wright, the new project leader for the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program in Falmouth, Maine. Jed has worked with the Service for over 10 years. Learn more in this blog interview about him, his experience and goals for managing the program.

Photo courtesy of Jed.

Photo courtesy of Jed.

What is your professional background and experience with the Service?

Before joining the Service in 1994, I completed various graduate degrees and worked in Washington, D.C. and Southern Africa. Somehow I kept on ending up in countries that were in the midst of civil wars. I went to Bates College and always thought that Maine was a very special place–when a chance arose to move back to the state, I took it.

I began working for the Service in a position that was shared between Fisheries and Ecological Services programs and focused on habitat mapping for Atlantic salmon. Over the years, my work evolved to a broader focus on habitat assessment, protection and restoration projects. I really enjoy working with a diverse set of partners and I’ve worked hard to build capacity within agencies and conservation groups.

I’ve enjoyed working with Service staff throughout the region and nationally and always learned so much from other’s experiences.

What are your goals as the new project leader?

I’m really excited about my new role and the great opportunities ahead for the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. The Coastal Program has a unique role and I look forward to building stronger linkages with other Service programs. I also look forward to reaching out to the next generation of conservation leaders by increasing internships, details, and fellowships that we offer.

There is a strong movement in Maine focused on restoring aquatic connectivity and I see our office continuing to play a large role in that arena.

Habitat protection and restoration efforts will play a role in the future at conserving not just present-day trust resources, but also in the ability of coastal ecosystems to respond to change and support coastal resources of the future and advance long-term conservation of critical habitat and species. I think it will be important for us to develop tools to assess how our habitat protection, restoration and management actions are contributing to resilience of coastal ecosystems in Maine.

Many of our local conservation partners don’t have access to facilities like the National Conservation Training Center and I’d like to see our office increase its focus on developing and hosting technical workshops.

Can you share a story about one of your greatest accomplishments at work so far? What you’ll bring from that experience to your new leadership role?

Managing the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Fund, a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation program, was a dynamic and rewarding experience. With a small amount of initial funding and a great deal of work from partners, I helped to permanently protect thousand of acres of riparian habitat, strengthen local conservation organizations, and develop innovative restoration approaches.

I see the lasting impact of the investments that we were able to make throughout Maine, especially in the area of aquatic connectivity. We recently completed a project in the Sandy River watershed in partnership with a small town. The town manager and road commissioner ended up committing their entire annual road budget to fix a serious fish passage problem. They spoke eloquently about their desire to be good stewards to the environment and their hope to restore fish passage throughout their watershed.

It’s clear that if you connect to people on an individual basis and look for shared values all sorts of great things are possible.

Check out this time lapse: Helping a town repair its road and improve fish habitat! A culvert on a busy town road in Phillips, Maine, was failing. The site was a priority for restoring Atlantic salmon and brook trout habitat. The folks at Jed’s office partnered with other organizations to secure enough funding, complete surveys and design and construct the new crossing, which was finished this month. The town is very happy with the results, and we hope that this project will serve as a model for additional municipal projects across Maine! Video credit: credit Alex Abbott (GOMCP)

Anything else you want to share with the community?

My interest in rivers and things aquatic stemmed from a childhood playing in our backyard stream. Many afternoons were spent racing sticks down through the currents or searching for fish. There were a few less benign activities including building numerous dams and once I and a cousin caused an avulsion that cut off a meander bend. My mom was not pleased with our radical change to the landscape.

I feel very lucky to have this job, to work with such a great group of colleagues and partners, and to be able to make amends up for all the impacts I caused to that small backyard stream.