Tag Archives: project share

Hands On, Dam’s Gone

Today we’re hearing from Kirstin Underwood, biologist with the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, as she teams up with partners to remove a dam in a remote section of the Sunday River in Western Maine. 

For me, the most rewarding thing about being a biologist is the chance to get outside, work hard and get my hands dirty. So when I heard about a dam that would be removed entirely by hand and human power in a remote region of western Maine, of course I wanted to be a part of it!


A derelict log dam on the Sunday River in Maine, blocking access to important cold water habitat for brook trout and other fish species. Its original purpose was to flush logs downstream from the mountains for the lumber trade

The most interesting thing about this dam in the west branch of the Sunday River was that for a long time, no one really knew it was there. During historic logging runs of the 1930’s, several log dams were built in rivers throughout Maine’s Mahoosuc Mountain Range to flush lumber downstream from the mountains. Many disintegrated or washed away overtime, but the ones that remained were built to last. Jeff Stern of the Androscoggin River Watershed Council (ARWC), key partner spearheading this project, has a special talent for locating remnant dams in remote streams of the Androscoggin watershed. He discovered this fully intact 8-foot-high dam, built with massive white pine logs and foot-long metal spikes, sometime last spring. It spanned the river fully, blocking brook trout and other fish species from accessing important coldwater habitat upstream (great places to feed, spawn and escape the summer heat). Property owner Sunday River ski resort granted permission to remove the dam, and Stern got to work with other key partners (including Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MEIFW), Project SHARE, the Maine Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office (USFWS), Trout Unlimited (TU), and the Androscoggin Valley Soil & Water Conservation District (AVSWC)) to make the removal happen.

Getting to the west branch of the Sunday River was an adventure in itself. We followed a caravan of eager workers and volunteers along several miles of dusty old logging roads. When the road ended in an overgrown logging trail, we loaded grip hoists, pry bars, and all of our other gear onto an ATV and walked a half mile to the site. Our crew was a conglomeration of people and interests: 14 scientists, fishing enthusiasts and habitat restoration specialists from MEIFW, ARWC, USFWS, Project SHARE, TU, and AVSWC all showed up to provide labor and technical expertise. Everyone sprang to action, hooking grip hoist cables to the grid of 30-foot logs that were tightly wedged in the stream bed by years of sediment deposit. When three separate grip hoists were attached to the heaviest logs, it took all of our strength to crank the handles hard enough to shake the logs from side to side, even with help from a chainsaw to weaken them! Cheers resounded whenever painstaking effort on the grip hoist finally led to a satisfying crunch as another log was wrenched free.


Two days, four grip hoists, a few crowbars, and one exhausted crew later, water flowed freely through the dam and fish passage was significantly improved. Though a large chunk of the structure remained in the river, enough had been removed to allow erosion to restore natural stream processes. Days after we left the site, natural restoration had already begun; high water from a storm surge washed out a huge block of dirt and gravel that had been held back by the logs for decades.

The best part of this project was actually getting out to do the work to restore fish passage, rather than sitting idly by to watch someone else do it. There is still work to do before the structure is completely removed, and I can’t wait to return to the site in fall or spring to finish.

This project was funded through a grant with the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, federal funds managed by USFWS.

Making way for Maine’s Atlantic salmon


Steve Koenig, along with former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attorney Joris Naiman, were chosen by the Service as 2012 Recovery Champions for endangered species conservation. Learn more. Credit: USFWS

Years and years ago, hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon made their epic migration from the oceans of Greenland to their natal rivers in Maine.

Now it would be a privilege to see even a few of these powerful creatures. While a number of threats contributed to the decline of this endangered fish, one of the biggest obstacles to the recovery of Atlantic salmon is blocked access to their freshwater spawning habitat.

Steve Koenig of Eastport, Maine, wanted to do something about it.

In 2001, he became the executive director of SHARE (Salmon Habitat and River Enhancement) in Downeast Maine, and since 2005, his work has improved 85 miles of salmon habitat.

What is the problem you are helping to solve, regarding Atlantic salmon and other native fish? (Steve) SHARE draws attention to the many problems that poorly designed road-stream crossings have on the recovery of endangered Atlantic salmon and other native fish species. When culverts are the wrong size or in the wrong place, they can be a barrier for fish and water movement, affecting habitat and water quality. Since 2005, SHARE has either removed or replaced 159 culverts in streams that now allow unobstructed fish passage and natural stream functions.

Did you know we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act? Check out stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast – We’re sharing them throughout the year!

What motivates you to work for endangered Atlantic salmon? The sole mission of SHARE, which is a non-profit and was created in 1994, is to support habitat restoration. Given the mission of SHARE, early on I was able to see the need for a program to engage in active on-the-ground habitat restoration. Although there are multiple agencies and groups associated with salmon restoration, no one was actively involved with habitat restoration on the Downeast Maine rivers.

Internally we developed that program within SHARE. Personally, I receive a great deal of satisfaction when we can take on a site and address the habitat issue. With road crossings, it is a simple matter of allowing the stream to flow through the crossing in its natural state. By restoring the natural stream flow, fish passage and habitat improvement become a natural function of restored stream processes.

This road crossing culvert is perched too high for fish to get through. Constricted flow creates a high-velocity barrier that migrating aquatic animals can't swim through. Find out what's being done in E. Peter Steenstra's story, SHARE Downeast at www.fws.gov/eddies. Credit: E.Peter Steenstra/USFWS

This road crossing culvert is perched too high for fish to get through. Constricted flow creates a high-velocity barrier that migrating aquatic animals can’t swim through. Find out what’s being done in E. Peter Steenstra’s story, SHARE Downeast at http://www.fws.gov/eddies. Credit: E.Peter Steenstra/USFWS

How does it go down – what work is done to benefit Atlantic salmon? SHARE’s accomplishments are the direct result of tapping into the capacity of its member stakeholders – from landowners where these habitat issues are found to state and federal resource agencies. Together, they help us with technical assistance and funding support. Quite often we work with high school and college students to plant trees and perform additional minor channel modification.

We also work on remnant log drive dams and large wood additions. Once sites are identified, we work with volunteers from SHARE’s stakeholder groups to complete the projects using hand tools and hand labor. It may seem like a lot of work (and it is), but it is very gratifying particularly at the end of the day when you can see what you have accomplished.


Steve’s background is in aquatic ecology. He grew up in Michigan sailing on Lake Huron and paddling many of the remote smaller rivers. Photo courtesy of SHARE.

Who do you work with? We work with large landowners, land trusts, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Forest Service, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Atlantic Salmon Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, University of Maine, and Washington Academy.

What do you hope to result from your work?
A few years ago, we were completing a number of good projects each year, but the task before us was simply enormous and daunting. Hope for Atlantic salmon restoration was best described as pretty low. At that time, my hope was to draw attention to habitat issues for salmon with the hope of gaining momentum. Some people suggested that while it may be to late for salmon, the work we are doing might benefit brook trout to the point that in 50 years they wouldn’t need to be listed.

However, in 2009, SHARE received major funding from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants through NOAA and USFWS. We were able to complete over 100 road crossings in a concentrated area of the Machias River from 2009 to 2011. Those efforts demonstrated that as resources become available, we are on the right track and can work at a pace that is biologically significant for salmon restoration. My plan now is to continue to promote the positive outcomes we can achieve, for Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and for the watershed as a whole. We have the right mix of partners, clear objectives based on threat assessments, and the capacity to get things done. We simply need to address the age-old problem of identifying funding sources and aim capacity and resources at additional concentrated focus areas.

Do you have a personal connection to Atlantic salmon or stream restoration? With Project SHARE, I am able to work in an outdoor setting on projects that few who are in the business of conservation business ever get the chance to experience. I am able to identify a threat, develop the solution, plan and then carry it out. The ultimate satisfaction comes at the end of the day, once the excavators and pumps are shut off, workers leave the site, and I am able to quietly sit and hear a stream that once again can flow naturally. It is a feeling that can’t really be described; it can only be experienced.