Tag Archives: recovery champion

Pimplebacks and pearlymussels: Biologist recognized for freshwater mussel conservation

Patty and Craig (3)

Patty Morrison’s (right) efforts to restore freshwater mussel populations sometimes sends her to work in a dive suit! Photo courtesy of Patty.

What drew Patty Morrison of Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge to freshwater mussels? Sure, she admits that mussels (with names like purple cat’s paw pearlymussel and orange-foot pimpleback) are obscure, but amazing species: “The more you learn about them, the more you want to know,” she says.

Patty’s leadership for conserving freshwater mussels like the white wartyback and the northern riffleshell made her a shoo-in for selection as a 2016 Recovery Champion. Her work as a wildlife biologist at the refuge has supported three years of successful captive rearing of purple cat’s paw pearlymussel and the first ever in-vitro rearing of an orange-foot pimpleback.

Patty Morrison’s “leadership, professionalism, and commitment to sound science have helped foster highly successful partnerships involving 24 state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations” – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Jim Kurth

Recovery Champions are U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and their partners whose work is advancing the recovery of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.

Patty Morrison Diving (3)

It’s dive time! Photo courtesy of Patty.

We had the chance to ask Patty some questions as part of her recognition.

What is the problem/issue you are helping to address/solve, regarding freshwater mussels? Historically, we have treated our rivers and streams so poorly, over time many of our freshwater mussel species have been reduced to isolated populations separated by many hundreds of miles. But the Clean Water Act worked, dams are being removed, fish hosts have rebounded, and all that is missing in many river systems is a “jump start” to get these mussel species back in their home waters. We have the all the science tools at our disposal to reconnect and augment these populations, with the goal of ultimately removing them from the endangered species list.

What motivates you to work for these species? It’s a combination of the amazing people who dedicate themselves to helping these obscure species, and the amazing mussels themselves. The more you learn about them, the more you want to know. What better example is there of showing how all things are connected in an ecosystem than freshwater mussels, their fish hosts, water quality and habitat?

Patty prepping mussel bags to stock

Patty Morrison, 2016 Recovery Champion, prepares mussel bags for stocking. Photo courtesy of Patty.

How does it go down – what work is done to benefit mussels? It actually starts with building relationships. Restoration of mussels is a long term commitment. Many of us in the Ohio River ecosystem have been working together for over 20 years, doing threat assessments in watersheds, species status reviews, surveys and inventories, and development and refinement of techniques for adult mussel translocations and captive propagation of juvenile mussels. From there, it’s just moving forward using adaptive management: what worked, what didn’t and why? Then, sharing this information and moving the needle forward a little bit each year.

Who do you work with? I am fortunate to work with people from three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regions (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest–across all programs), 8 states, and an amazing array of private organizations and citizens who care deeply about the health of our rivers and streams. People who are not afraid to try something new, to be “courageous for conservation.”

What do you hope to result from your work? To spread the story of the mussels so everyone at least knows what they are, where they live, and how important they are to our overall quality of life. To keep the energy, enthusiasm and passion alive and passing it on to the next generation of stewards.

Congratulations, Patty!

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.