Tag Archives: natural resources conservation service

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 Thanks to a recent grant from the Federal government, however, many outdated culverts will be replaced with wider archways that allow water and wildlife to pass more easily.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.)

Bog turtle

Working lands for wildlife!

Happy Friday, everyone! Today we’re sharing a fun infographic from our partner in the Working Lands for Wildlife program, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Working Lands for Wildlife was launched in 2012 as an innovative approach to work with farmers and forest landowners to restore and protect habitat for seven specific wildlife species–three of which are found in the Northeast: the New England cottontail, the golden-winged warbler and the bog turtle. Through this partnership, landowners can get technical and financial assistance by volunteering to restore habitat on their land.

New England cottontail

New England cottontail: This rare rabbit can be found east of the Hudson River in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. It favors habitat with thick, tangled plants, or thickets, which also benefits other species like deer and wild turkey. Partners in the New England cottontail initiative have committed to restoring young forest on 27,000 acres across these states by cutting, shrub planting and prescribed burns, and as of March, we’ve implemented 6,700-8,700 acres. The thickets help ensure the New England cottontail isn’t forced to feed in areas with threats of predators. This photo by Amanda Cheeseman is from a study in Putnam County, New York, where researchers are helping us better understand the population there.

Bog turtle

Bog turtle: The smallest turtle in North America, the bog turtle has been protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1997. The bog turtle’s wetland home has critically diminished because of severe development, which causes draining and filling of its habitat. Bog turtles serve as good indicators of water quality and wetland function. Biologists restore its open canopy habitat by controlling grazing by cows, sheep and goats and by removing some trees and shrubs. Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS

Credit: Walt Ford/USFWS

Golden-winged warbler: The Upper Midwest and Appalachian Mountains were once a fortress for this migratory bird. Like others, the golden winged warbler has experienced threats of degradation to their shrubby, thicket habitat, which has caused its drastic population decline. Through NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative, private landowners have enhanced about 10,000 acres of young forest habitat for this at-risk songbird species. Credit: Walt Ford/USFWS

Own land and want to help? Check out these frequently asked questions. Read the rest of the blog post at USDA-NRCS.

Hoppin’ down the conservation trail, bringing back a rare rabbit

DID YOU KNOW?Photo from Lou Perrotti, Roger Williams Park Zoo
The New England cottontail has become so rare that it’s a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It’s different than the non-native eastern cottontails that people brought to New England for hunting years ago, and that you commonly see on roadsides and in gardens. What’s a candidate? (PDF)

With spring’s arrival, we can expect to see young rabbits hopping around our yards and gardens. You probably won’t see the region’s only native rabbit, the New England cottontail.

While this rare rabbit looks a lot like the ones you’ve seen outdoors, the New England cottontail is found only in the thick tangles and vines of just five spots across New England and New York. It depends on a special type of habitat, young forest and shrublands, which also provides food, shelter and places to raise young for a variety of other animals. This rabbit has lost 86 percent of its historic range since the 1960s, and is even a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

State, federal, local and private partners are following a strategic plan and working together to bring the rabbit back and to create the young forest and shrubland habitat that it depends on. The strategy depends on the help of private landowners in communities across the region, since much of the land targeted for habitat restoration is privately owned.

New England cottontails need masses and tangles of saplings, weeds, vines, and shrubs. A human on foot can’t simply stroll through such places – in many cases, they won’t even be able to enter!

Can you spot the New England cottontail? They need masses and tangles of saplings, weeds, vines, and shrubs. A human on foot can’t simply stroll through such places – in many cases, they won’t even be able to enter!

Here’s a shout-out to some of the folks working to save the New England cottontail:

  • Universities and scientists, like Adrienne Kovack at the University of New Hampshire, are helping us test DNA to find out where these rabbits still exist. They are also helping us better understand the rabbit’s habitat needs and its dispersal habits. Surveys and monitoring occur across the range to understand taxonomy and genetic diversity, and to monitor habitat changes, populations and project success.

One day, we hope the New England cottontail will once again be common across its namesake! Learn more.