Tag Archives: recovery

Three Years After Sandy: Building a Stronger Atlantic Coast

Three years ago this week, Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the Atlantic Coast with record storm surge, fierce winds and torrential rain. Earlier this month Hurricane Joaquin again reminded us of nature’s power, inundating much of the Atlantic Seaboard with heavy rains and chest-deep floodwaters and setting historic records in the Carolinas. And only days ago, Hurricane Patricia — the most powerful tropical cyclone ever measured in the Western Hemisphere with maximum sustained winds of 200 m.p.h. — threatened the coast of Mexico before weakening significantly after landfall.

Visit doi.gov/hurricanesandy to learn more about how Department of the Interior investments are helping to build a stronger Atlantic Coast three years after Hurricane Sandy.

In this age of uncertainty we have come to expect the unexpected. The science tells us that climate change will cause hurricanes and tropical storms to become more intense — lasting longer, unleashing stronger winds, and causing more damage to coastal ecosystems and communities. The question is, what can we do to help coastal areas stand stronger against the storm?

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

An aerial view of coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in Mantoloking, NJ. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS

Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has spurred an unprecedented effort to strengthen natural defenses along the Atlantic Coast to protect communities and wildlife against future storms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Department of the Interior agencies are investing $787 million in hundreds of projects to clean up and repair damaged refuges and parks; restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline; connect and open waterways to improve flood control; and increase our scientific understanding of how these natural areas are changing.

The Service is investing $167 million in more than 70 projects to clean up refuges, restore and strengthen coastal areas (marshes and beaches), connect and open waterways for better fish passage and flood protection and support other efforts to protect wildlife and communities from future storms. These investments support the goal of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to make communities more resilient to increasingly intense storms predicted with a changing climate. They also create jobs and provide opportunities for fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and other recreational opportunities. Here are a few projects that have been completed or are under way:

Cleanup of post-Hurricane Sandy debris, removed from coastal marshes at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

Post-Hurricane Sandy debris removal from the coastal marshes of Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey, made possible through Department of the Interior funding. Credit: (before) Ryan Hagerty/USFWS, (after) Virginia Rettig/USFWS

  • In New Jersey, we’ve completed a $13 million debris removal project at E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge to clean up more than 32,000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal habitat. The project removed 1,900 tons of debris from 22 miles of coastline and employed more than 100 workers. Removing the debris allows coastal areas to recover, providing healthier habitat for native wildlife while acting as a buffer against future storms.
  • In Maryland, we’re constructing 20,950 feet of living shoreline to protect marshes at Fog Point, a coastal section of Maryland’s Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge in Smith Island. The $9 million project will help protect more than 1,000 acres of interior tidal high marsh, sheltered water, submerged aquatic vegetation and clam beds against the effects of future storms. It also will enhance the natural defenses of saltwater habitats important to the island’s soft crab fishery, a natural resource local Smith Island residents depend on for their livelihoods.  

Learn more about the Fog Point living shoreline project in this video.

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge marsh restoration - dredge work to drain flooded marsh CREDIT David Eisenhauer

Dredge work drains a flooded marsh in Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, part of an ongoing $38 million marsh restoration effort in Delaware. Credit: David Eisenhauer/USFWS

  • In Delaware, we’ve invested $38 million in a marsh restoration effort under way to build storm and sea-level rise resilience into the natural landscape at Delaware’s Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The project is repairing breached marshes and reconstructing severely damaged shoreline, including critical dune restoration. Restored marshes at the refuge will provide a more resilient coast against future storms and create additional habitat for birds, including American oystercatchers and federally listed species such as rufa red knots and piping plovers. Along with the restoration of coastal wildlife habitat, the project provides the added benefit of enhanced storm protection for nearby residents.
Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. open up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

Removal of the White Rock dam in Westerly, R.I. and Stonington, Conn. opens up close to 25 miles of the Pawcatuck River and associated wetlands for migrating American shad, alewife, blueback herring, American eel, and sea-run trout. Credit: USFWS

  • In Connecticut and Rhode Island, we worked with The Nature Conservancy to remove White Rock dam. The $794,000 project will reduce flood risk to local communities, restore habitat for fish and wildlife and open up several dozen miles of  fish passage in the Pawcatuck River for the first time in nearly 250 years. It is among 13 Hurricane Sandy-funded  projects to remove dams or  evaluate them for removal in four states.

Three years after Hurricane Sandy, communities, government and nonprofit organizations are working together like never before to better understand and adapt to changing conditions. Clearly it will take time and careful planning before we see a return on many of these investments. But the Service is confident the long-term benefits of building a stronger coast will far outweigh initial costs when it comes to protecting communities, sustaining wildlife and lessening the financial impact of damages resulting from future intense storms. To that end, we are establishing systems to carefully monitor and evaluate our progress to ensure this work is effective and lasting. The nature we care about and the public we serve deserve no less.

You can track the status of our projects and investments by visiting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hurricane Sandy website at www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy/

Not your average squirrel

We are excited to announce the recovery of the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, placed on the first endangered species list in 1967!

More than 80 percent of this squirrel’s home is on private land and Delmarva landowners and residents played a major role in the recovery of this species. The species has thrived and continues to expand across the working landscapes of the Peninsula as private landowners continue with routine timber harvest and farming with sufficient mature forest nearby to support the squirrels.

Check out this awesome infographic that tells the story of the Delmarva fox squirrel’s recovery

Infographic created by Alexa Marcigliano/USFWS

Infographic created by Alexa Marcigliano/USFWS

The Endangered Species Act has been enormously successful in conserving imperiled wildlife, preventing the extinction of more than 99 percent of the species listed as threatened or endangered since 1973. The Delmarva fox squirrel will follow 27 species that have been delisted due to recovery, including the bald eagle, American alligator, and peregrine falcon. Meanwhile, 30 species have been down-listed from endangered to threatened.

The recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can be an effective tool to protect and recover imperiled wildlife from the brink of extinction, especially when we work in partnership with states, tribes, conservation groups, private landowners, and other stakeholders.

Click here for a universally accessible version of the graphic


Introducing our 2013 Recovery Champs!

Where farmland meets the forest on the Delmarva Peninsula, the fox squirrel that calls this habitat home might be heading for delisting. In Delaware, Virginia and Maryland, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel’s status as endangered is up for review.

The species has made an unprecedented recovery in recent years, with no small thanks to the Delmarva fox squirrel recovery team. That’s why our agency has chosen them as one of our Recovery Champions of 2013! This award recognizes the important work of the Service’s staff and its partners that are advancing the conservation efforts of endangered or threatened fish, wildlife and plants.

4752172550_2a229ebb64_b (1)Dr. Cherry Keller and her 12-person recovery team have worked on the Delmarva fox squirrel’s recovery since the ’90s.

“The neat thing about the team is that it’s a diverse group with many different talents and perspectives,” says Cherry. “There are people with management skills, people with research skills, people in tune with the public — diversity was the key to our success.”

Now, after years of monitoring and eleven successful translocations of fox squirrels, the efforts of the team have resulted in 20,000 fox squirrels covering 28 percent of its historic range — up from 10 percent when it was first listed in 1964. The collaborative effort improved monitoring techniques, developed habitat suitability models and assessed population connectivity.

A translocation involves moving individuals from a part of their range where the species occurs abundantly to restart a population in a part of their historic range that’s now unoccupied. How many individual squirrels does it take? “24,” says Keller, “this species does well with translocations. Eleven out of the 16 were successful, which is a great rate.”


Fun fact: “Delmarva” is a portmanteau of the states that make up the peninsula — Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia (abbreviated as VA).

Translocations wouldn’t work if the newly reoccupied areas couldn’t provide decent habitat. Associate professor at California University of Pennsylvania and researcher on the recovery team, Carol Bocetti, Ph. D., began investigating the timber industry’s effect on Delmarva Peninsula in 1998, researching whether alterative practices — such as leaving islands of forest behind after a clear-cut harvest — could benefit the fox squirrel.

“There had been some work done by a masters student that shows, intuitively, that when you remove the forest, the squirrels go away,” Carol says. A study was conducted for several years on the timber industry’s effect on the habitat, but Carol had concerns that it wasn’t a long enough time to properly survey the fox squirrel’s habitat. Her research showed that a decade after the harvest, the growth of a dense understory heavily favors the common gray squirrel.

And that’s exactly what happened. “About ten years post-harvest, the Delmarva fox squirrel’s population dropped precipitously,” says Carol.

Carol put her students to work, assisting her in collecting data and telemetry in following up after the study — much of which was used later by the recovery team.

“[The recovery effort] continues to be a collaboration — probably one reason I am so excited to win the award is because it’s for a group that’s been committed to the recovery and sustainability of the species for so many years,” says Carol. “There’s a tremendous fulfillment on being a part of that effort. It’s not only the science, but the people that kept me coming back.”

In 2012, a review led by Cherry found that the species is now sufficiently abundant and able to withstand future threats – aka, it no longer faces extinction and is ready to be removed from the endangered species list. Looking forward, the team is supporting the Service to develop a proposal to remove the species from the list, and is also working with the agency on a post-delisting monitoring plan.

So let’s hear it for some of our 2013 recovery champs, the Delmarva fox squirrel recovery team: Cherry Keller, Carol Bocetti, Ruth Boettcher, Dan Rider, Ray Dueser, Bill Giese, Kevin Holcomb, Glenn Therres, Holly Niederriter, Matt Whitbeck, Michael A. Steele and Karen Terwilliger. Thanks for all your important work!


Biologists Susi von Oettingen and Anne Hecht presented the Recovery Champion award to Dr. Scott Melvin on May 30. Credit: USFWS

Biologists Susi von Oettingen and Anne Hecht presented the Recovery Champion award to Dr. Scott Melvin on May 30. Credit: USFWS

We’re also honoring another recovery champion from the Northeast—Dr. Scott Melvin, a founding member of the threatened piping plover recovery team. Scott has led research and management that has increased the number of the birds nesting in Massachusetts from 160 pairs to 660 pairs—more than a four-fold growth in 23 years!

Check out this rundown of some of the incredible work he’s accomplished in honor of the plover: conducted population viability and modeling studies, monitored the status of the species, coordinated with landowners and stakeholders to protect the plover from predators and the adverse effects of recreation on nesting beaches, and the overseen graduate studies investigating the life history and population biology of the plover.

In response to the award, Scott stated, “Throughout much of its range, progress towards recovery of Atlantic coast piping plovers has occurred when research findings and field observations made over the past 30 years are effectively applied to state and federal regulatory tools. In Massachusetts, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has benefitted from strong administrative support from our fish and wildlife board, our director, and our Nongame Advisory Committee. Repeatedly, they have supported staff biologists and their recommendations.

State and federal agencies have benefitted from strong communication and coordination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Finally, progress to date could not have occurred without the efforts of literally hundreds of biologists and beach managers following well established protocols and policies, and applying these to management in the field.”

Congrats and thank you, Scott!