Tag Archives: Gulf of Maine

In Memory of Jed Wright

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On Friday, October 6, 2017, the conservation community in Maine lost one of its most inspiring leaders in Jed Wright, the project leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. He leaves a legacy as a public servant whose dedication to conservation forged strong partnerships, conserved thousands of acres of land, and restored hundreds of miles of healthy rivers.

Jed made his way to the Service over two decades ago following graduate studies at SUNY Buffalo and Yale University, and work with the World Bank in Mozambique and Angola. Eventually taking the helm of the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program in 2014, Jed joined the Service in 1994 to assist with a mapping project for Atlantic salmon. Already tuned to conservation in Maine, Jed began the first of many years committed to restoring the country’s last stronghold for wild Atlantic salmon and many other fish species.

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His focus in rivers and aquatic wildlife stemmed from a childhood playing in a backyard stream, racing sticks in the current and spending hours searching for fish. At the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, Jed and his colleagues championed partnerships improving river and stream health. His efforts bolstered shared successes with Project SHARE, The Nature Conservancy, Penobscot River Restoration Trust and many other partners crafting win-win situations in streams and rivers for communities and fish.

For years, Jed worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to build capacity and empower local grassroots salmon conservation organizations in downeast Maine to encourage salmon and river restoration in that region. Through the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Fund, Jed helped to permanently protect thousands of acres of riparian habitat, strengthen local conservation organizations and develop innovative restoration approaches. The fund’s work received national prestige with the 2005 Secretary of the Interior’s Cooperative Conservation Award recognizing outstanding cooperative conservation achievements accomplished with a diverse range of partners.

Jed was instrumental in helping his colleagues complete a multi-agency regulatory agreement in 2017 on building road-stream crossings that will facilitate recovery of Atlantic salmon and restoration of habitat for other native fish species. His expertise in stream simulation design and his leadership skills were key to accomplishing this endangered species consultation–an agreement that exemplifies how together partners can fulfill the needs of transportation, flood hazard reduction and river restoration. When a complicated bank stabilization project crossed his colleagues’ desks, Jed brought in experts from the West Coast to demonstrate how a technique new to Maine could maintain fish habitat in the Sandy River while also meeting the local community’s goals to protect an important town road. Jed also saw this work as critical preparation for the expected environmental changes shaping Maine’s coast, often remarking that current habitat protection and restoration efforts will drive how ecosystems will respond to future changes.

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Jed at the Sandy River project with Brian Bair of the U.S. Forest Service and Dennis Castonquay, director of Farmington public works department.

Kennebec Journal photo by David Leaming.

Every spring, Jed helped children and teachers release salmon fry in Maine rivers as part of the Atlantic salmon Adopt-A-Salmon Program, and he assisted local schools in obtaining salmon eggs and educational materials each year.

While some might see conservation as work focused on wild places and wildlife, Jed knew it all boiled down to people. As project leader, he carried on the office’s focus on voluntary, collaborative partnerships with people who have similar goals—working in respectful partnerships, with flexibility, creativity, and a ‘we-can-do-it-together’ outlook. Countless anecdotes from partners illustrate his endeavors to build relationships and capacity for the greater good, always with his signature attitude of humility and calm. In partnership with Keeping Maine’s Forest, Jed coordinated and facilitated the 10th annual Private Lands Partners Day event in Bangor, Maine. The workshop brought attendees from across the nation to see how economic interests and conservation are balanced in Maine’s multiple-use forested landscape.

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Jed’s energy and determination, his creativity and thirst for new ideas, the daily care and commitment he devoted to our shared goal of ecosystem restoration and to staff and partners through the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program were absolutely amazing to behold, a model for us all, and a truly great loss for our community.

– Alex Abbott, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The loss of Jed leaves a profound void in the conservation family. He had a rare mix of great intelligence, deep compassion, calm patience and energetic passion to persevere in the face of resistance and to push for real and lasting change. He inspired and challenged all who worked with him, and had a sincere interest in developing people. His colleagues noted that they always left a conversation with Jed believing a bit more in themselves, in other people, and in the future.

We are dedicated to living by his example and carrying on his work.
Fish and Wildlife
We invite Jed’s peers, friends and partners to share thoughts and memories below by commenting. Photos and other remembrances can be via email. Donations in memory of Jed can be made at Yellow Tulip Project: https://theyellowtulipproject.org.

This tribute was developed in collaboration with our Maine Ecological Services staff.

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From Pollinator Gardens to Wildlife Refuges: Introducing Students to Green Spaces

Today we’re hearing from Emilie Seavey, DFP intern at the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program office, who’s sharing her experience working on urban outreach initiatives in the Portland area. Emilie has united students with nature in a variety of ways this summer, from planting pollinator gardens to facilitating field trips to National Wildlife Refuges. Special thanks to Kirstin Underwood who instrumental in making these outreach initiatives happen, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and partners at Maine Audubon. 

A mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, French, Somali, Arabic, Swahili, Lingala, and Kirundi immediately filled the air as we watched fifty high school students file off the school bus and into the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge parking lot.

Gulf of Maine Coastal Program biologist Kirstin Underwood, assistant refuge manager Ryan Kleinert, outreach intern Cassie Cain, Maine Conservation Corps environmental steward Rebekah Smith and I greeted the crowd with trail maps, Piping Plover temporary tattoos, and as much enthusiasm as we could manage.

These students – representing over a dozen countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Guatemala – are English language learners, taking summer classes at Deering High School in Portland, Maine in order to gain proficiency in English before returning to school in the fall. Most of the students have been living in the U.S. for less than a year and, after talking with students and teachers, we learned that many students did not have access to safe green spaces in their home countries.

Kirstin and I only met this group a few weeks ago, when we came to visit the high school with Eric Topper, the Maine Audubon outreach coordinator, to help the students plant a pollinator garden. After a few mornings of weeding, shoveling compost, and planting milkweed, Kirstin had a crazy idea: if we could bring a green space to the students, could we bring the students to a green space?

Within a matter of hours, Kirstin reached out to the folks at Rachel Carson NWR, and the refuge offered funding to pay for a school bus. Kirstin and I visited the students again to provide them with some information about the history of the refuge and some animals they might see during their visit. Many of the students wanted to know if they would encounter poisonous snakes or other dangerous animals, and we quickly realized the importance of emphasizing that we were going to a green space where everyone would feel safe and comfortable.

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Students, teachers, and USFWS staff enjoyed a quick walk on the refuge trails. Credit: Kirstin Underwood/USFWS

The day of the field trip finally arrived. As we handed the students bird and plant guides, I could tell that all the visitors, teachers included, were excited to spend the morning outside rather than in the classroom. We took off down the trail, stopping at various viewing decks that looked out over the salt marsh. The students spotted everything from Great Blue Herons to eastern chipmunks as they fussed over pairs of shared binoculars. Ryan, Cassie, and Rebekah managed to keep up in answering the constant stream of questions from both the students and the teachers.

While some students were enthusiastic to check out the wildlife, others preferred sitting quietly or chatting with friends. After walking the trail, students wandered over to the small pollinator garden near the visitor center to practice plant identification. No matter what they chose to do with their short time at the refuge, it was a relief to see that people were relaxed and enjoying themselves.

We watched the students file back onto the bus after exchanging a few fist bumps and jumping into some selfies. Later that week, Molly Callahan, who leads the English language learning program, reached out to us to say that several of the students had come to her to say that they enjoyed the birds and the scenery and that they would like to go back to the refuge with their families. It was a successful first introduction to the National Wildlife Refuge system, and we hope for many, many more to come

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.)