Tag Archives: partners

Making conservation history in the Delaware Basin

In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed into the Delaware Bay and proclaimed the area suitable for a settlement without ever setting foot on shore. He had good instincts.


Before Henry Hudson descended upon the river that would ultimately bear his name, he gave the Delaware Bay a favorable review. 

Today eight million people live in the Delaware River watershed and rely on the basin for clean water, jobs, food, and recreation. And they’re not alone. The watershed is 50 percent forested and encompasses more than a million acres of wetlands; it’s an ideal place for thousands of species of fish and wildlife to settle, too.

“We’re that middle spot: the southernmost extent of northern species ranges, the northernmost extent of southern species ranges, and the migration link between,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. “It’s always amazing when I’m out in the field to see the diversity of people and communities here — from agriculture, to industry, to suburbs — and yet integrated throughout the whole area is this incredible diversity of wildlife as well.”


New Jersey Audubon’s John Parke speaks to farmers in Sussex County about how buffers are good for their land and water quality. Photo: Courtesy NJ Audubon

Parke had just come in from a day in the field showing agricultural landowners some of the conservation work NJ Audubon has supported for wildlife and people in the area. The first stop was a winery that installed a pollinator meadow that doubles as stormwater runoff control. Next was a livestock farm that had adopted prescribed grazing techniques that not only create habitat for declining grassland birds like bobolink, meadowlark, and savannah sparrows, but also reduce erosion to improve both soil and water quality.

“The idea was to show some of the conservation practices they could use on their own property, and then down the line, we can help them apply for funding to make it happen,” Parke said.


Bobolinks enjoying the pasture where a livestock farmer uses prescribed grazing techniques to create habitat for grassland birds. Photo: John Parke, NJ Audubon

For Parke, this outing was business as usual and a reflection of the ongoing coordination among partners in the basin to conserve and sustain the area’s natural resources. New Jersey Audubon is one of 130 members that make up the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, founded in 2012 to align partners involved in conservation and restoration, and the driving force behind passage of the 2016 Delaware River Basin Conservation Act.

It’s easy to understand why everyone wants to coordinate.

“Putting conservation on the ground in harmony with all those people takes a lot of organizations working together, and it takes buy in from communities as well,” Parke said.

It also takes funding. In early August, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation launched the $5 million Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund with federal appropriations administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fund represents the first step in implementing a strategy developed by partners last winter with guidance from the Service to focus conservation on four key areas– clean water, habitat, recreation, and flow management.

“It’s a different way to conceive of partnership,” said Mike Slattery, the Service’s Delaware River Watershed Coordinator. He speaks from experience. Slattery is the Service’s former coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Delaware program is modeled after partnerships like the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, which takes a non-regulatory approach to implementing provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act through collaborative habitat prioritization, restoration, and conservation. “It’s voluntary, incentive driven, and has a proven record of success,” Slattery said.

You don’t need to look far for proof. Partners have long been leveraging resources for collective impact in the Delaware River watershed. Parke’s work with agricultural producers leverages funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Haverford Residential Rain Garden Sign

A good sign for the Delaware River watershed. Photo: Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Susan Myerov, Watersheds Program Director for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, facilitates a partnership addressing stream health and stormwater management in greater Philadelphia that leverages funding from the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.

“Most of the places we work in are suburban communities with a lot of impervious cover where stream function is impaired,” Myerov said. “We partner with universities and watershed organizations to target areas where we can get the most bang for our buck through restoration and community education projects, like municipal rain gardens in the Cobbs Creek watershed.”

Jake McPherson, Regional Biologist for Ducks Unlimited, used North American Wetlands Conservation Act funds from the Service to conserve 1,082 acres of emergent and forested wetlands at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.


Translation: Welcome home, ducks! Photo: Jake McPherson, Ducks Unlimited

All of them are submitting proposals for the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, too.

“There’s an abundance of habitat and restoration work to be done in the watershed, and more funding means more opportunities,” McPherson said. And more opportunities mean more benefits.

“The Delaware River basin in an important corridor for migratory waterfowl, and our work focuses on supporting these species throughout their life cycles,” he said. “But there are public benefits that go well beyond habitat.”

For example, water storage, water quality, filtering of contaminants — and let’s not forget fun. “In Delaware, every resident lives within 30 miles of the coast,” McPherson pointed out. “Where do you think these people go for recreation?”

If Hudson were to sail into the Delaware Bay today, he’d be dodging fishing boats, kayaks, sunfish, yachts, and cargo ships. He would find its shores thoroughly settled by people with a stake in ensuring the basin remains a suitable place to live for generations.


Visitors enjoying nature right in southwest Philadelphia at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: USFWS

“Along the bay, you have all of these pristine capes, hooks, and wetlands in such close proximity to industrial and urban areas — just think of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge right in southwest Philadelphia,” Slattery said. “It’s easy to envision that with an all-hands-on-deck approach, we can achieve a significant degree of conservation and restoration here.”

The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund is accepting proposals until Sept. 27.

Check out some of the other restoration efforts underway led by the Service and partners throughout the Delaware watershed:

“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.

MLyttle 1

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.

Won’t you be my conservation neighbor?

Let’s say you’re the head of a land trust with a detailed map outlining the network of lands and waters you need to protect so that fish, wildlife, and natural splendor may endure in your community for generations to come. If the next town over decided to site a housing development on priority habitat just beyond your group’s boundary, would that affect wildlife movement within? Would you even learn about the plan in time to suggest an alternative?

The 12 Rivers Initiative isn’t waiting for the ominous rumble of bulldozers in the distance. Last year, the Maine-based conservation partnership applied for a grant from the Open Space Institute (OSI) to reexamine their long-term conservation planning through the lens of regional climate data. The objective wasn’t just to refine conservation priorities within their boundaries; it was to better align with conservation priorities outside of them.


Anna Fiedler from the Midcoast Conservancy shares a new map developed using climate data with members of neighboring land trusts to identify opportunities to connect. Credit: 12 Rivers Initiative

“We saw this as an opportunity to approach land trusts at the edges of our landscape to talk about where conservation corridors should go once they leave our map,” said Anna Fiedler, Director of Conservation for Midcoast Conservancy, one of the eight land trusts that comprise the 12 Rivers partnership.

12 Rivers is one example of how conservation groups working across a relatively small area are having a meaningful impact on the larger landscape by incorporating climate change into long-term planning. Building on its partnership with the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, OSI is now offering support for land trusts across the eastern United States, helping them integrate climate change into their conservation plans through workshops and outreach support available across the region in partnership with the Land Trust Alliance.

With guidance from Gillian Davies of the BSC group, Fiedler’s colleague Ruth Indrick, Project Coordinator at Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, created a map highlighting overlapping priority areas identified by combining the Terrestrial Resilience and Regional Flow datasets developed by The Nature Conservancy and the Index of Ecological Integrity developed by the Designing Sustainable Landscapes Project at UMass Amherst. Together these datasets can help practitioners identify sites in the Northeast with characteristics necessary to support biodiversity and wildlife movement into the future, and all three are available for anyone to access in the Land Protection in a Changing Climate gallery in the North Atlantic LCC’s Conservation Planning Atlas.


The 12 Rivers Initiative created a new conservation plan designed to support habitat for wildlife and community needs, like working lands and recreation, across an 825,000-acre landscape in Maine using the best available data in the region.

Idrick and Fiedler then presented this co-occurrence model along with individual maps depicting each dataset at a workshop for staff from all eight land trusts of 12 Rivers, as well as for those along the boundaries.

“We talked about what we envisioned for planning, shared maps with the lands committee at each land trust so they could ground truth what the models showed, and agreed to reexamine the edges and corridors with new information provided by our neighbors.” said Fiedler. “Mapping is a great tool, but it’s important to use local knowledge to put it to the test.”

It’s also good diplomacy. “The conversation really strengthened our relationships with the land trusts at our borders,” she said.

The map has provided scientific reinforcement for the direction the partnership is heading. “The data showed us that we already had a solid conservation plan in place, but by making sure it is aligned with new knowledge, it shows that we are looking ahead,” said Fiedler. “That’s really valuable when going to donors and funders.”

While 12 Rivers is still in the process of realigning its conservation plan based on input from partners and neighbors, the mapping exercise itself has initiated important conversations as the partnership looks ahead. “We are seeing now that the bulk of the effort moving forward will be communicating about it,” said Fiedler. “We are incorporating more climate change context into our work, and we are looking for ways to talk about it that keeps a range of different people engaged, without using the kinds of buzzwords that can close the conversation.”


Staff and board members from the 12 Rivers partner land trusts take part in a role-playing activity to practice engaging different kinds of people in conversations about climate. Credit: 12 Rivers Initiative

In addition to addressing sensitivity to language, they are trying to make it real for their members. Fiedler explained that during a second workshop, in which they shared the maps with board members and staff from all 12 Rivers partner land trusts, they also asked attendees to take part in a role-playing activity. Everyone paired up and pretended to be either a skeptical landowner or a member of a land trust who was trying to convince that landowner it was critical to conserve his or her property.

“Most people didn’t even use the phrase ‘climate change’ in their conversations,” explained Fiedler. “Rather, they said that finding some common ground with the other person was the best way to get through to them.”

It seems just like in productive conservation, productive communication demands meeting people on their terms, even if that’s beyond where your own map ends.

Since the staffs of land trusts within 12 Rivers approach donors and community members as representatives of their own organizations, it’s important that they are equipped with consistent messages about the climate data at the foundation of their shared plan. As such, Fiedler said the circuit rider helped them develop initial messaging about their work based on research from the Yale Program on Climate Communication. OSI is considering providing further support to 12 Rivers to advance their climate communications.

“It’s wonderful to have that kind of support,” said Fiedler. “I’m glad they understand that communication is critical to long-term planning.”