Tag Archives: nrdar

Photo of Hudson River from Creative Commons Flickr user Elizabeth Bean, http://www.flickr.com/photos/52975930@N00/112703530/

It’s National Rivers Month!

Margaret Byrne

Today you’re hearing from Margaret Byrne, a West Virginia native and an environmental health scientist involved in the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Credit: USFWS

In one of my earliest memories, I am fishing with my father just before dinner, and in the sunset above the Potomac River we see a triple rainbow emerge from the clouds. He reminded me then, and I still know now, that seeing something so beautiful happens once in a lifetime.

The shore of the Hudson River, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user Randy OHC.
“Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Photo of Hudson River from Creative Commons, Flickr user Randy OHC)

I have never again seen three rainbows above the Potomac, but it has been my experience that rivers offer unending opportunities for beauty. These natural landscapes are a source of connection to nature. Wherever I live or visit I seek out the local river to forge a connection to that landscape.

The river stones I collect there, polished from years of being scraped along the river bottom, remind me that time reveals beauty and that change is an inherent part of life. National Rivers Month is a time to pause and appreciate the incredible beauty and natural resources found in the rivers of the Northeast region.

My work on the Hudson River has taught me about the incredibly diverse and important habitats found in this unique place. The Hudson River has been called “the river that flows in two directions” because the tides of the Atlantic Ocean push water back upstream twice a day. These tides help to create homes for many different kinds of plants and animals.

As the Hudson River makes its way from its source in the Adirondack Mountains, it provides habitat for hundreds of species of fish and birds as they breed, feed, raise their young, and seek shelter and rest.

A bottle I have on my desk, filled with water from the Hudson River, reminds me to protect the ecosystem from which it came.

A view of the Potomac River from Shepherdstown, W.Va. Credit: Angela Durkin

A view of the Potomac River from Shepherdstown, W.Va. Credit: Angela Durkin

Potomac River from James Rumsey Bridge in Shepherdstown, W.Va. From Creative Commons Flickr user thisisbossi
“A good river is nature’s life work in song.”
-Mark Helprin
(Photo of Potomac River from Creative Commons, Flickr user thisisbossi)

This month, I celebrate National Rivers Month with a solemn knowledge that the incredible ecological resources of the Hudson River have been extensively contaminated with chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

These toxic chemicals have been found in the water, fish and other wildlife, and sediment of the Hudson River below General Electric Company’s plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in New York.

We know that PCBs can cause serious harm to wildlife and other natural resources and we are in the process of determining the scope of the injuries caused by this contamination. (Read my colleague’s blog post about studies on Hudson River mink and learn about the difference between the EPA’s Superfund cleanup and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process.)

As National Rivers Month comes to a close, I invite you to remember the beauty and inherent value of the natural resources of the rivers throughout the Northeast Region, and I encourage you to work with us and others, and do your part to protect these resources.

black and white warbler

Growing chocolate for the birds

It’s conservation abroad! Five 30-acre southern Belize farms have begun the conversion to shade-grown cacao.

Farmers standing in front of nursery

Our partner, the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education, tells us the community and farmers were excited to show off the new nursery that they and BFREE have set up. Credit: BFREE

What makes it outside the box? The funding comes from a $3.7 million restoration settlement with companies responsible for contaminating the land and water around an Ashland, Mass., industrial site. The settlement was reached in 1998 for natural resources harmed by mercury and other contaminants at the Nyanza Chemical Superfund site.

An example of a cacao forest, which provides habitat for overwintering birds. Credit: BFREE

An example of a cacao forest, which provides habitat for overwintering birds. Credit: BFREE

How is it going down? Interested farmers will transition from intensive agricultural to sustainable agroforestry for cacao. Cacao, unlike pineapple and banana, can be grown under a mixed forest that provides great feeding and resting habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds and nesting habitat for resident songbirds. Farmers will be trained and receive funds to reforest cleared land and develop shade-grown agriculture, providing significant cost-effective benefits to birds and remaining economically sustainable for the local community!

What birds will benefit? Species likely to benefit include a number of songbirds: red-eyed vireo, yellow warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, magnolia warbler, black-and-white warbler, northern waterthrush, gray catbird, least flycatcher, eastern kingbird, wood thrush. Many of these were also impacted from contamination resulting from the Nyanza site.

black and white warbler

Black and white warbler. Credit: Jeff Koch

Who’s doing it? The funding was allocated with public input by the government natural resource agencies in Massachusetts (called natural resource trustees), including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education is overseeing the effort on the ground.

Settlement funds will also go to 10 other projects restoring migratory and coldwater fish habitat; protect land to conserve wildlife habitat; create public access to the river in Ashland and Sudbury; create a nature preserve in Framingham and Ashland; and control invasive aquatic weeds in the Sudbury River to improve recreation and wildlife habitats and diversity.

These natural resource damage settlements fund restoration projects where the contamination occurred or at an alternate location which, when restored, provides a suitable replacement for the injured or lost resources. Sometimes the responsible party donates land to be restored and protected. Restoration can also be in the form of restoring populations of injured resources such as birds or freshwater mussels.

In this situation, funds are going to help birds that visit the Sudbury River watershed but that need conservation in their wintering grounds. With a relatively small investment of restoration dollars, we are already having an impact on restoring habitat for neotropical migrants in Central America.

Read more about the Belize project in the restoration plan.

Baby mink jeopardized by toxic chemicals in N.Y.

Mink. Credit: Doug Racine.

Hudson River mink are getting heavy doses of toxic chemicals from their PCB-contaminated food and shelter, which could be killing their babies and jeopardizing their numbers. Credit: Doug Racine.

Kathryn Jahn

Today you’re hearing from Kathryn Jahn, case manager for the Department of the Interior (of which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a bureau) for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment. She has worked on the Hudson River case since 2000 and oversees our agency’s involvement in the process of determining how natural resources have been harmed by exposure to PCBs, and what sort of restoration is required to address such harm.

In the early 1970s, toxic compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were discovered in the water, fish and sediment of the Hudson River below General Electric Company’s plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in New York.

Those PCBs have contaminated the surface water, groundwater, sediments and floodplains of the Hudson River. We find that living resources at every level of the Hudson River’s food chains are contaminated with PCBs. We believe that serious adverse effects are likely to be occurring to wildlife exposed to this PCB contamination in the Hudson River.

A whole team of people (see the below list) are using their individual and collective expertise to address the problem of PCB contamination in the Hudson River and its effect on wildlife. My favorite part of this job is the teamwork among all the people working on this issue, and the interactions with our experts and the public.

We know that PCBs can cause serious harm to wildlife and other natural resources. Although a cleanup funded by GE is underway for certain sections of the Hudson River, the dredging GE is doing will leave some areas still contaminated with PCBs.


The responsibility for restoring natural resources that have been injured by hazardous substances (like PCBs) belongs to federal, state and tribal trustees, through a natural resource damage assessment.

For the Hudson River, the trustees are U.S. Department of Commerce (through NOAAcheck out their blog), U.S. Department of the Interior (through FWS), and State of New York (through NY DEC).

As trustees, we are stewards of the public’s natural resources. Our goal is to restore the Hudson River so that wildlife can thrive and people can more fully enjoy the River.

The dredging also cannot compensate for past effects of this PCB contamination on the Hudson River’s natural resources. For example, dredging will not make up for all the years that public use of the Hudson River fishery has been impaired by fish consumption advisories. Dredging will not return that lost use to the public.

In our planning to determine the effects of PCBs on wildlife, we identified mink health as one area to investigate. Mink are vulnerable to the effects of PCBs. Hudson River mink eat PCB-contaminated fish and other small creatures, and they ingest contaminated water, soil, and sediments as they look for food and build their dens. This led us to suspect that Hudson River mink might be being harmed by PCBs in their environment.

In a study we conducted, the results of which have just been published, farm-raised mink were fed a diet containing fish from the upper Hudson River. Baby mink born to the parents that ate the diet made with PCB-contaminated fish from the Hudson River were much more likely to die early in life than those that ate food with less PCB contamination. I spoke to the media about this important new research and you can read more about this study in the two news articles below.

GE facilities in Hudson Falls and Ft. Edward, N.Y., discharged PCBs in the Hudson River. Original location of map.

GE facilities in Hudson Falls and Ft. Edward, N.Y., discharged PCBs in the Hudson River.

This mink research helps show us the extent of the injuries to the mink, so that in thinking about restoration options for the Hudson River, we can consider the need for actions to help the animals recover. Over the years we’ve been gathering restoration ideas from the public, and a number of those ideas – including additional removal of contaminated sediment, removal of dams that restrict fish access to streams, or shoreline habitat improvements – would benefit mink, as well as other wildlife.

We’re continuing to study the effects of PCBs on Hudson River mink. This spring, we’ll be conducting a study that entails on-the-ground work to determine the mink’s numbers, and uses specially trained dogs that can find mink poop! You can read more about this and other work we’re doing on our site, and we invite you to join our list serve for regular updates on our activities.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Don Cooper.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Don Cooper.