Tag Archives: noaa

The adventures of Nulhegan’s new refuge manager

Steve Agius has traveled the globe visiting many exciting and interesting places, including working in Antarctica with penguins and elephant seals. He’s now recently settled in Vermont as the new manager of the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. I had the opportunity to ask Steve a few questions about his experiences, and I’m sharing some of his adventures here with you today.

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Steve surveyed southern elephant seal colonies for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on King George Island in Antarctica

How did you end up on your career path? 

Growing up in New Jersey gave me the opportunity to explore the coast and many great state parks. In middle school I became interested in rock and ice climbing, and backpacking. I made a deal with my parents that if I could make the honor roll than I could take extended weekend backpacking trips to the Adirondack, Catskill and White mountains. By high school, my grades had dramatically improved and I was allowed the freedom to explore the mountains of New England. In the late 90s, I spent a month north of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. To be honest, I have never been the same person since visiting the Arctic. That refuge sparked a conservation passion inside of me that continues to this day.

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Steve and some penguin buddies in Antarctica

Tell us more about your professional background? 

I have a B.S. in Ecology and a M.S. in Zoology. My formal training has focused on birds, specifically colonial nesting seabirds. As far as conservation jobs, I have worked for the Service in California, Maine and Vermont, and for NOAA in South America and Antarctica. I have also worked for the State of Maine’s wildlife program, and for the Peregrine Fund at the Grand Canyon and Zion national parks. I have dabbled as an adjunct professor at Unity College and the University of Maine.

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Steve holding an american woodcock

How is the Nulhegan refuge different from other refuges where you’ve worked? 

From 2002 through 2010, I worked at the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. In 2011, I moved inland and worked at the Northern Maine refuge complex. The forest management focus at the Conte refuge is VERY different from seabird management. I loved being on the water in the Gulf of Maine, but working to develop and implement long term forest management plans (though daunting) is exciting work. Trying to restore forests that have been substantially altered by more than a century of industrial timber practices, while promoting priority wildlife species is a not an easy task.

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Steve out exploring with his dog

Would you share a story about your greatest accomplishment and what it meant to you?

It can be hard as a federal employee to immediately recognize our accomplishments. We spend so much time responding to emails and focused on a screen that it can be a challenge to come up for air and see the world around us. Often it’s not about the big success stories that make a difference, but the little triumphs that keep us smiling and motivated. I take pride in the simple accomplishments like finalizing an agreement that prevents the National Guard from driving hummers in upland sandpiper habitat at Aroostook refuge, or performing a logistics support role to improve aquatic organism passage on lands around Moosehorn refuge, or overseeing the installation of 600’ of boardwalk at Sunkhaze refuge. Sure, we all love flashy success stories, but my pride comes from the little triumphs that add up to a bigger success.

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Cross country skiing is a family affair!

 

Do you have a personal motto about your life and career?  

I believe in integrity.  A person has to be accountable for their actions, respectful of others, and honest at all times. Maybe it has to do with being an Eagle Scout, but I would say that integrity best defines how I operate.

Improvements of culvert designs can increase the safety of surrounding communities and commuters. Credit: Steve Droter

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Julie Devers

Just outside of Centreville, Maryland, you can find Julie Devers waist deep in water on the side of the road. With measuring tape in hand, she is assessing one of more than 30,000 road-stream crossings in the state.  The particular culverts she is examining are known to be a severe barrier to fish passage. Safety for people and connectivity for fish and wildlife can be enhanced by simply repairing and redesigning these crossings.

Devers is a fish biologist with the Maryland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. By partnering with the Maryland State Highway Administration, NOAA Fisheries and Maryland Department of Natural Resources, they have been assessing road-stream crossings to develop recommendations of which culverts and crossings should be prioritized for repair. “Highways have a maintenance schedule,” says Devers, and through their recommendations, “the SHA could replace [the culverts] when they redo the highway.”

Entire roads can be wiped out if they are undersized or poorly designed.  “What we saw in the Northeast during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee is that undersized culverts really caused a lot of damage,” says Devers. Flooding from storm surges are not able to pass through these barriers and can cause thousands of dollars of damage to roads and property. As we mark the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the Atlantic Coast, it is important to keep in mind the impact that these climate events can have on our communities.

For species of river herrings like alewife, blueback herring and American shad the difference between a fish-friendly passageway and a severe barrier is more than a safety concern; it’s about life or death. These species are vital to the food web. Alewife have been known to be eaten by nearly anything throughout their transition in habitat; ranging from cod, halibut, fox, and eagles.

These migratory species travel from saltwater to freshwater to lay their eggs. If there are blockages along the way, they won’t be able to complete their journey. Even for nonmigratory species, such as brook trout, the inability to travel upstream could leave entire populations separated causing a genetic bottleneck. The brook trout stream near her home, one of the last in Anne Arundel County, says Devers, is considered a “relic” to the locals.

Across the whole Northeast, there are an estimated 210,000 bridges, culverts, and dams spanning 280,000 miles of river. Many of them, you are passing on your morning commute and are throughout your community. While many of these dams and bridges serve important purposes, old and inadequate designs make them a risk.

After Hurricane Sandy, funding through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 has supported dozens of projects to restore rivers and streams and remove barriers to connectivity. With this funding, projects throughout Maryland have been able to better protect their communities and coastline through increases resiliency. Groups like the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative were able to utilize this funding to create a map and database for biologists like Devers and for the public to use. These tools provide information about the assessed barriers in a region and rates how bad they are for fish passage or safety.

Through the work of biologists like Devers, we are able to make our communities more resilient. By working to identify the features in our communities that could pose a risk to people and wildlife, she is giving stakeholders the tools to create the change needed to make us #StrongerAfterSandy.

This is the second in a five part series of photo slideshows highlighting the people who have been working to defend their coastal ecosystems against storms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Last week, we looked at Matt Whitbeck and Miles Simmons in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. You can view the continuation of this series and other news regarding our restoration and recovery projects on our website.

The little culvert that could

Today we hear from Service biologist Sandra Lary and project partner Karen Robbins as they introduce us to a habitat restoration project that resulted in improved fish passage. The project was highlighted in a video that explains the reasons and workings behind such a valuable partnership.

This old culvert block important waterways for fish and other wildlife passage. Photo credit: Karen Robbins

This old culvert blocked important waterways for fish and other wildlife passage. Photo credit: Karen Robbins

Throughout the Northeast, decrepit culverts block fish and other wildlife from moving through water systems. We often talk about how a new culvert can allow fish to swim to upstream spawning grounds, but we don’t often consider other implications. These twisted metal culverts are easily clogged and can prevent other aquatic wildlife from moving around freely, which could result in a risky street crossing. In the Town of Arrowsic, Maine, a team of dedicated conservationists decided they couldn’t have that. So, they designed and installed one of the state’s first culverts made for both fish and wildlife.

Partners working together on the culvert project. Photo credit: Karen Robbins

Partners working together on the culvert project. Photo credit: Karen Robbins

It was a collaboration between the Town of Arrowsic Conservation Commission, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, Service biologists and engineers, and many local landowners and volunteers. The Service also provided funding and technical assistance for this community project.

Sewall Creek is located in midcoast Maine and is a tributary to the lower Kennebec River.  Several years ago, a rock-concrete barrier downstream of the road crossing was removed.  The removal of this barrier plus the new road crossing (culvert) now allows for free unobstructed movement under the road and into Sewall Pond.  This helps not only native sea run fish ​like ​alewife and American eel reach historic habitat, but also other wildlife species that use rivers and riverbanks as migratory corridors, including turtles, beaver, mink, muskrat, frogs, and snakes.

Installing the new culvert. Photo Credit: Karen Robbins

Installing the new culvert. Photo Credit: Karen Robbins

Many small projects like this free up and add up to create a larger habitat for fish and aquatic wildlife.

​Technical ​assistance ​was also provided by the ​Aquatic Systems Lab at University of Southern Maine, Maine Department of Marine Resources, NOAA, Maine Coastal Program and​funding from ​numerous state​, federal and non-profit entities.

To inform and educate the community about the importance of the project, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust made this video. Check it out – it features Service employee Sandra Lary!

For more information, please see the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program and the National Fish Passage Program.