Tag Archives: fisheries

“A Hero of Mythical Proportions”

In this guest blog, Trout Unlimited’s Ron Rhodes and Rich Redman explain why U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Madeleine Lyttle was selected as the organization’s 2017 Conservation Professional of the Year.

After Tropical Storm Irene dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on New England and the Northeast in 2011, the resulting flood damage was more severe than any in recent memory. Culverts, bridges, and roads were destroyed, causing a flurry of construction and emergency river channel work that often did more harm than good.

If you had surveyed the damage in the weeks following the storm, you would never have envisioned that in the years ahead, more than 220 miles of native brook trout habitat would be reconnected, following the removal of more than 20 problematic dams and culverts that had prevented fish and aquatic organisms passage for decades.


With Madeleine Lyttle’s help, this dam was removed by a coalition of groups, including the Greater Upper Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, opening 88 miles of brook trout habitat in Vermont’s White River watershed. (Credit: Trout Unlimited)

But Madeleine Lyttle, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, could see that future, and helped turn the tragedy into a triumph for conservation through her strong guidance and steady hand in the years that followed.

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Madeleine Lyttle collects information on the river at this undersized culvert so engineers can redesign a fish-friendly culvert. (Credit: USFWS)

Working hand in hand with Trout Unlimited (TU) chapters from New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire in the Lake Champlain, Hudson River, and Connecticut River watersheds, Madeleine cobbled together a complex array of partners, harnessed more than $1.5 million in grants from FEMA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the TU “Embrace A Stream” program, and other sources, and leveraged the power of TU’s grassroots network to identify, assess, plan, implement, and monitor aquatic habitat restoration projects.

And so on September 29, TU Director of Volunteer Operations for the national organization, Jeffrey Yates, presented Madeleine with the 2017 National Conservation Professional Award.

“Indeed,” Jeff told the audience, “Madeleine is a hero of mythical proportions among Trout Unlimited chapters in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.”


Jeff Yates, Director of Volunteer Operations for Trout Unlimited, presents the 2017 Conservation Professional award to Madeleine Lyttle (Credit: Trout Unlimited)

Thanks to her efforts, there is growing awareness of how removing and replacing dams and culverts is not only good for trout, salmon, and other fish, but is a real benefit to towns and counties in helping withstand future flood events.

One of those communities benefiting from Madeleine’s passion and expertise is in Willsboro, New York, an hour east of the infamous Lake Placid and located on the Boquet River, about a mile upriver from Lake Champlain. The Boquet River was legendary for Atlantic salmon runs prior to 1864, until the Willsboro Dam was constructed to supply power for the Willsboro Pulp Mill. The area would later be identified as a superfund site because of all the discharge dumped into the river by the Mill. Eventually the site was cleaned up, with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation oversight. Then with Madeleine’s guidance, a suite of partners, including Vic Putman with Trout Unlimited, collaborated to have the obsolete dam removed and restore the region’s valuable fisheries.


Willsboro Dam before removal (Credit: USFWS)


Willsboro after removal (Credit: USFWS)

Countless dams and culverts across New England have come tumbling down, with fish returning to their historic waters thanks to Madeleine Lyttle’s years of work – “with lots more to come,” as Jeff noted at our annual meeting. Her technical expertise and guidance are often the difference between a project foundering or moving forward. She reluctantly takes credit, however, and is quick to remind everyone that the work can only be done with partnerships such as those between TU and the Service.

Yield of Streams: If you remove it, they will come

Little feet tread through slushy April snow and approach the railing, peering over the edge of the bridge into the cold, flowing water of the Shawsheen River in eastern Massachusetts.

“I see one!”

They counted them 1,2,3.

The Joshi family children shouted out numbers as silver blue blurs glided through the dark water.

“We counted 95,” recalled Andover resident Jon Honea. He explained that this meant that as many as 425 passed by when volunteers weren’t watching.

They were counting river herring­­ – alewives and blueback herring, two closely related species of migratory fish that hadn’t been seen in the river for nearly two centuries.

And while river herring are no Shoeless Joe Jackson, their homecoming to the Shawsheen points to the success of the recent removal of the Balmoral and Marland Place Dams.

“All you have to do is make space,” said Honea, member of the Andover Conservation Commission and an environmental science professor at Emerson College.

Tracking the herring’s return to the Shawsheen River was a community affair, drawing over 250 volunteers. Residents from the Atria assisted living facility – whose residence was threatened by increased flood risk from the dam – joined the fun, alongside Andover high school students and dedicated families like the Joshi family, who counted multiple times every week.

“The removal of these two dams not only increases the resiliency of the Town of Andover, but reconnects the community to the river by restoring lost recreational opportunities and natural ecological processes upon which we all rely,” explained Bill Bennett, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

Not only were these dams a public safety hazard – heightening flood risk and threatening paddlers – they also blocked the travels of migratory fish throughout the river.

Dams prevent rivers from flowing naturally, impairing water quality and interrupting natural stream processes that both people and wildlife populations rely on.

Partners and volunteers have already documented a steady reappearance of river herring in the Shawsheen, but other wildlife such as American shad and American eel are also expected to arrive.

These removals opened up 4.1 miles of the river and restored 16 acres of wildlife habitat, allowing these fish to reach spawning grounds that are critical for their survival.

Though these smaller fish aren’t coveted by anglers, they are eaten by other wildlife such as larger game fish – like striped bass – shorebirds, raptors and river otters.

Snapping turtles and great blue heron have also been observed enjoying the free-flowing state of the lower Shawsheen River, below the remaining Ballardvale Dam.

Jane Cairns of the Andover Historical Society explained the rich history of the Shawsheen River, mentioning that the Marland Place Dam supported mill operations in the town, even powering a site that at one point supplied gunpowder to George Washington’s Continental Army.

She, like Honea, is also a member of the Shawsheen Greenway, an organization focused on making the Shawsheen River corridor a vital recreational, cultural, transportation, and educational resource for the entire community and region.

“We’ve been reminded, as many other communities have before us, that a clean and healthy, free-flowing river is a significant asset for the town, and can provide a boost to both our recreational and business resources,” Cairns said.

Nick Wildman, a restoration specialist from the Massachusetts Department Fish & Game, has been involved with these removals since 2009. He called the projects a “public investment for public benefit,” adding that the dam removals along the Shawsheen River represent a resurgence of the place that rivers have in our lives.

It doesn’t end there. Though public safety and stewardship of the river and fisheries were paramount to community leaders, fewer dams are a home run for experienced paddlers, who no longer have to transport their boats around the dams on land.

“The newly opened stretches of the river are quite beautiful and exciting,” Honea said. “There are long stretches with just forest on either side and several newly accessible drops, including a couple very exciting rapids.”

“These projects are not possible without strong partnerships between the federal, state, and local communities,” Bennett said.

Some of these partners embarked on a celebratory paddling trip in May to explore the newly free-flowing Shawsheen River.

Three canoes set out on the river. Eric Hutchins of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Bill Bennett of the Service in one, Nick Nelson of Interfluve – a national firm focused on river restoration – and his son in another, and Andover’s Conservation Commissioners, Jon Honea and Floyd Greenwood, in the third boat.

While paddling, Hutchins and Nelson noticed a gizzard shad also exploring the newly restored river.

“Rivers are the lifeblood of our nation and their stewardship is of the utmost importance,” Bennett said.

The town sees it the same way.

“The Town of Andover is very excited about the removal of the dams – many people see this as the start of a real renaissance of the Shawsheen,” said Bob Douglas, conservation director for the Town of Andover. “Our residents are looking forward to being able to paddle the unbridled Shawsheen from the Ballardvale mill district, through the center of town, all the way to the mighty Merrimack.”

Rhode Island River Revival

To celebrate National Rivers Month, we asked Tim Mooney, marketing and communications manager for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island to share some good news about rivers in The Ocean State. An avid hiker and birder, he managed two of the Conservancy’s flagship nature preserves from 2007-2016 and previously served in the Washington and Providence offices of U.S. Senators John Chafee and Lincoln Chafee. He lives in Cumberland, R.I. with his partner, Chris Audette. 

Rhode Island’s environmental champion (and dear friend of the Fish and Wildlife Service), the late U.S. Senator John Chafee, was fond of saying, “Given half a chance, nature will rebound. But we must give nature that half a chance.”

For the past several years, The Nature Conservancy’s Rhode Island chapter has worked with the Service to give nature half a chance on the Pawcatuck River. Winding 34 miles through southern Rhode Island, the river abounds with wildlife, from osprey to otters and herons to herring. It’s hard to beat the meandering Pawcatuck River for summertime family paddling. Scientists describe it as the last and best semi-wilderness river system in the state.

Nevertheless, the lower reaches of the river were choked by the White Rock Dam. Two miles upriver from a municipal boat ramp in downtown Westerly, R.I., the dam, a legacy of the Industrial Revolution, blocked kayakers and migrating fish.

The White Rock Dam was on the Pawcatuck River, on the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Credit: The Nature Conservancy

Although no longer serving a commercial purpose, the 6-foot-high concrete wall diverted the river into a long bypass canal. In spring, the river rushed through the canal with tremendous force, creating dangerous conditions for inexperienced kayakers. It also prevented all but a handful of river herring from migrating upstream to their traditional spawning grounds.

In 2015, the Conservancy and the Service, supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience, came together to remove the dam and close the bypass canal. Two years later, the river is back on its natural course. Paddlers and fish are passing easily, and local flooding has been reduced. The lower Pawcatuck River has been set free for the first time in 250 years.

The dam removal in 2016 was supported in part by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects. Credit: The Nature Conservancy

We want nature to thrive everywhere — not just “wild” places, but in our neighborhoods and historic waterfronts, too. For most of the 20th Century, the Crawford Street Bridge covered nearly ¼ mile of the Providence River in downtown Providence, R.I. Just upstream, the junction of the Woonasquatucket and Moshasseck rivers, which join to form the Providence, was hidden beneath the John O. Pastore Federal Building and Post Office.

The waterways below, which feed into Providence Harbor, were heavily polluted with industrial waste and sewage and, quite simply, stank. All of upper Narragansett Bay was horribly polluted. It was hard to imagine anyone sailing, fishing, or kayaking in those waters.

Today, thanks to an ambitious revitalization project in the 1980s, the Crawford Street Bridge is gone, replaced with a series of smaller spans, and the Woonasquatucket and Moshasseck meet in the open. Providence River is the cleanest it has been in seven generations, thanks to the vision, foresight, and hard work of many people and organizations. And public access to Providence’s natural resources is valued more than ever.

The Nature Conservancy oversaw the design and construction of the Gano Park boat ramp on the Providence waterfront. The project was supported in part by funds from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, administered by the Service. Credit: The Nature Conservancy

In 2014, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the City of Providence and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management to open a new boat launch at Gano Park — the city’s first public ramp. Using funds from the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, decades of illegal dumping were reversed, and the area was made safe again for people and wildlife.

The Conservancy helped design and manage the project, using innovative strategies to keep polluted storm-water run-off from entering the estuary. The ramp never would have been possible, however, without the support of the Service and countless hunters, archers, and anglers across the United States, who fund the WSFR program through taxes on sporting equipment, electric boat motors, and fuel.

A river remembers its natural, free-flowing course after 250 years. A boat ramp rises from a dumping ground as a neighborhood gateway to Narragansett Bay. Nature does rebound, just as Senator Chafee said. Across the state, Rhode Island’s waterways are bouncing back, and I hope you will celebrate nature’s resilience by exploring these special places this summer.