Tag Archives: Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

Remembering the Kennebunkport Fire

October of 1947 in the Northeast was not the typical autumn we’ve grown to love and celebrate today. Seventy years ago this month, portions of New England were facing catastrophic wildfires, some stretching eight miles in length along the coast of Maine, shaping the landscapes of today including sections of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The fire that became known as the Kennebunkport Fire destroyed over 200 homes and caused $3,250,000 in damages, which is valued at over 35 million dollars today.

Photos courtesy of Brick Store Museum 

If a fire in New England of this magnitude were to occur today, one can only begin to fathom the devastation this could cause. The thickly settled houses and communities lining the east coast drastically increases risk to the homes and people living in the area. In efforts to prevent a fire of this magnitude, it takes a group effort, combining resources from, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service to safely manage the North County Interagency Fire Zone. Fire managers work closely with partners to share equipment and personnel. They also rely upon each other for expertise and help in managing lands for habitat, reducing the risk of wildfire, and responding to wildfires. Together, they also spread awareness and fire education to communities.

In the Northeast Region, the Service had a total of 58 staff, mostly collateral duty, that led fire and assisted on over 105 fire incidences across the country this year alone, some spending three months or more away from home or responding to multiple incidents. While a relatively small portion of the Service, they often have highest number of duties and take on crucial roles in responding to these emergencies.

To recognize the first responders that raced through the area and the current staff that work to keep us safe, events are being held this week in multiple communities in Maine. When it comes to fire, we all work together to ensure the health and safety of communities, firefighters, wildlife, and habitat.

Learn more about the history of the Kennebunkport Fire.

From Pollinator Gardens to Wildlife Refuges: Introducing Students to Green Spaces

Today we’re hearing from Emilie Seavey, DFP intern at the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program office, who’s sharing her experience working on urban outreach initiatives in the Portland area. Emilie has united students with nature in a variety of ways this summer, from planting pollinator gardens to facilitating field trips to National Wildlife Refuges. Special thanks to Kirstin Underwood who instrumental in making these outreach initiatives happen, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and partners at Maine Audubon. 

A mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, French, Somali, Arabic, Swahili, Lingala, and Kirundi immediately filled the air as we watched fifty high school students file off the school bus and into the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge parking lot.

Gulf of Maine Coastal Program biologist Kirstin Underwood, assistant refuge manager Ryan Kleinert, outreach intern Cassie Cain, Maine Conservation Corps environmental steward Rebekah Smith and I greeted the crowd with trail maps, Piping Plover temporary tattoos, and as much enthusiasm as we could manage.

These students – representing over a dozen countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Guatemala – are English language learners, taking summer classes at Deering High School in Portland, Maine in order to gain proficiency in English before returning to school in the fall. Most of the students have been living in the U.S. for less than a year and, after talking with students and teachers, we learned that many students did not have access to safe green spaces in their home countries.

Kirstin and I only met this group a few weeks ago, when we came to visit the high school with Eric Topper, the Maine Audubon outreach coordinator, to help the students plant a pollinator garden. After a few mornings of weeding, shoveling compost, and planting milkweed, Kirstin had a crazy idea: if we could bring a green space to the students, could we bring the students to a green space?

Within a matter of hours, Kirstin reached out to the folks at Rachel Carson NWR, and the refuge offered funding to pay for a school bus. Kirstin and I visited the students again to provide them with some information about the history of the refuge and some animals they might see during their visit. Many of the students wanted to know if they would encounter poisonous snakes or other dangerous animals, and we quickly realized the importance of emphasizing that we were going to a green space where everyone would feel safe and comfortable.


Students, teachers, and USFWS staff enjoyed a quick walk on the refuge trails. Credit: Kirstin Underwood/USFWS

The day of the field trip finally arrived. As we handed the students bird and plant guides, I could tell that all the visitors, teachers included, were excited to spend the morning outside rather than in the classroom. We took off down the trail, stopping at various viewing decks that looked out over the salt marsh. The students spotted everything from Great Blue Herons to eastern chipmunks as they fussed over pairs of shared binoculars. Ryan, Cassie, and Rebekah managed to keep up in answering the constant stream of questions from both the students and the teachers.

While some students were enthusiastic to check out the wildlife, others preferred sitting quietly or chatting with friends. After walking the trail, students wandered over to the small pollinator garden near the visitor center to practice plant identification. No matter what they chose to do with their short time at the refuge, it was a relief to see that people were relaxed and enjoying themselves.

We watched the students file back onto the bus after exchanging a few fist bumps and jumping into some selfies. Later that week, Molly Callahan, who leads the English language learning program, reached out to us to say that several of the students had come to her to say that they enjoyed the birds and the scenery and that they would like to go back to the refuge with their families. It was a successful first introduction to the National Wildlife Refuge system, and we hope for many, many more to come

Susan Adamowicz at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Credit: USFWS

One Salt Marsh at a Time: Building Coastal Resiliency After Hurricane Sandy


Dr. Susan Adamowicz is standing on a salt marsh along the shores of the Webhannet River at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. This refuge is practically her home, where she has worked for the past 13 years as a land management and research demonstration biologist for the Service.

Coastal marshes are a habitat she has known and loved since she was a child. But today, salt marshes are facing new and unprecedented threats from climate change. We asked her to talk to us about the important role salt marshes play in protecting coastlines and building coastal resiliency.

Q: What are salt marshes and what makes them important?

Susan: Salt marshes are exciting places to work! They are dynamic areas. Salt marshes form where rivers meet the sea and where the velocity of water is slow enough to allow the sediment to deposit and for plants to take root. Over time, as salt marshes continue to grow, they rise in elevation and expand outward horizontally.

They support a wide variety of wildlife that’s specialized to live in this salty, tidal environment, everything from micro biota to birds such as the saltmarsh sparrow to numerous species of mammals and fish. They also provide environmental services, such as storing carbon, filtering water and providing natural defenses against storms by buffering the force of both storm surges and storm waves.

Q: Let’s talk about storms—how did Hurricane Sandy change the way we think about protecting coastal communities?

Susan: The coast was forever changed, as was our perception of what it means to live along the coast. We saw the tremendously destructive force of what nature can do, but we also saw how this force can be lessened by having salt marshes in place to protect our shores.

After Hurricane Sandy, I think many of us woke up to the challenge of having to think about our coastal systems in new ways. How might we redesign our coasts so that in some areas we could restore the natural systems, like salt marshes, that can provide more natural flexibility and protection from storm surge, big storm waves or even additional rainfall?

Q: How do we prepare for future storms and sea-level rise and stay resilient?

Susan: Salt marshes play a vital role in the resiliency of coastal systems. Imagine if this salt marsh was not here. There would be no buffer from the turbulence of storms. And because healthy salt marshes can grow higher in elevation, they can provide a continuing protection to human communities if sea levels don’t rise too high too quickly. By being able to handle the force of storms and recover quickly, we say that salt marshes are resilient and they pass this protection on to surrounding human communities.

We’re also using all kinds of new techniques to restore coastal marshes and improve resiliency. Thin-layer deposition is one example. It uses clean dredge sediments to build up the marsh surface elevation to a height that’s optimal for the salt marsh grasses to continue to build the marsh on their own over time. We have several thin-layer deposition projects on national wildlife refuges as a result of Hurricane Sandy funds [for example, at John Chafee National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island and Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey].


Susan Adamowicz shows interns how to take salt marsh elevation samples. Credit: USFWS

Q: You’ve worked in coastal marshes for a long time—how has your work changed and what do you see for the future?

Susan: A lot has changed. We no longer talk about restoring a salt marsh to the configuration it had in the 1600s. Now we talk about restoring the trajectories of salt marsh-building forces so that a salt marsh can sustain itself and have a high degree of integrity over time.

With super storms, climate change and their effects, we’re seeing unprecedented forces placed on the coast.

It’s like Godzilla is walking all over our picnic and we are trying to figure out how best to prepare ourselves, how best to respond to this climate change Godzilla. I may be exaggerating a little bit, but maybe only a little bit because it has been such a challenge to us.

Some of the models predict that our coastlines are going to be entirely changed by sea-level rise in the next 100 years and I worry a great deal about the kind of planet that my nieces and nephews and their children will inherit.

I take hope in realizing it is not just me alone, but within the family of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and my family of other professional scientists, there are a lot of us that are concerned about the same thing. We want to pass on a healthy planet to future generations. If we can bring these salt marshes 50-75 years into the future, I think we will have done a service for the next generation of scientists, wildlife lovers and folks that live on the coast, a service that they can then build on.

Reprinted from Fish and Wildlife News, Fall 2016, p. 18-19

Susan Adamowicz at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Credit: USFWS

Susan Adamowicz along the Webhannet River at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Credit: USFWS