Tag Archives: saltmarsh

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Nancy Pau and Susan Adamowicz

Susan Adamowicz, Ph.D. and Nancy Pau have been working with local communities to defend coastal ecosystems against storms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The two biologists are key players behind invasive species removal and high salt marsh restoration projects at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

Local communities and landowners play a major role in the success of these projects. Pau cites local conservationist and Town of Newbury selectman Geoff Walker as an example.

“There is only so much we can do on protected lands to address resiliency issues,” she says. “A lot more can be done off refuges through decisions made by landowners and towns, especially as towns think about resiliency projects of their own. Having people like Geoff involved, people who understand the big picture of the marsh and how dependent the towns are on the natural ecosystems, is really great. He can speak to the issues that are important to the town.”

Collaboration between biologists and landowners is important when it comes to protecting vulnerable natural areas from storms and sea-level rise. Adamowicz says the high salt marsh habitat is crucial to helping people and wildlife alike withstand and recover from events like Hurricane Sandy.

“Healthy shoreline ecosystems provide much-needed protection for our human communities,” says Adamowicz. “The restored salt marsh will buffer waves and swallow up storm surges.”

Healthy salt marshes also serve as nurseries for fish that support offshore fisheries and support birds such as the saltmarsh sparrow, black rail and black ducks, which rely upon this unique habitat.

This work will allow future generations of wildlife and people to call the shoreline home — and that benefits everyone.


All photos by Steve Droter

Beyond the dam, a new vision for resilient communities

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

There was a time when small dams throughout the Northeast were the cores of their communities. Often the next major structure to be built after the church, the dam harnessed waterpower to process corn for sustenance and lumber for shelter. Later, dams produced energy to make textiles to be shipped far and wide, providing jobs and pumping dollars into local economies. Still others offered chances for recreation like swimming and fishing.

These days, many small dams have not only outlived their usefulness, they are liabilities for wildlife and local communities. Thousands in the Northeast are obsolete and not maintained. More than 25 percent are high-hazard, posing a big risk of failure that could flood nearby areas. Once central to community life, many dams are now barriers to progress, impeding economic growth, recreation, and tourism, while also blocking wildlife migration.


The removal of Two Lick Dam, one of three dams removed from West Virginia’s West Fork  River in 2016, allowed more than 30 miles of the river to flow freely. This encourages a healthier river that flushes nutrients, pollutants and sediment, supporting thriving fish and freshwater mussel populations and enhanced fishing for smallmouth bass and muskellunge. Credit: USFWS

American Rivers, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., announced in February a list of 72 dams that were removed from waterways across the country in 2016, restoring more than 2,100 miles of river and stream habitat to a free-flowing state. Thirty-one were in the Northeast, with Pennsylvania leading the country for the 14th straight time, at 10.

The list includes several projects supported by the Service, such as removal of Hughesville Dam on the Musconetcong River in New Jersey, which will help restore fish and wildlife and water quality in this federally designated Wild and Scenic River. Or the removal of three dams on the West Fork River in West Virginia, which opened up 490 miles of habitat for endangered freshwater mussels and native species of fish, increased recreational access for paddlers on the water trail, and is even helping the Clarksburg Water Board save money on chemical costs to treat water.

Since 2009, the Service has worked with partners from Maine to West Virginia to remove more than 450 barriers to fish passage — including dams, culverts, and road-stream crossings — and connect nearly 4,000 miles of rivers, creeks, and wetlands. Since 2013, federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects has supported the removal of seven dams in the Northeast, with five more in process or scheduled.

Two dams on American Rivers’ 2016 list tell the story of how the Service and partners are helping communities adapt to changing conditions and realize a new vision of healthy, safe and connected river systems for people and wildlife.

Long Run Dam, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, to offer a place for employees at the nearby CCC camp to swim and fish. The 7.5-foot-high and 276-foot-long stone masonry dam blocked the free passage of wild brook trout and other fish. It had fallen into disrepair, and the area above the barrier was filled with sediment.

The Service’s Fish Passage Program funded the removal project, and multiple partners worked together to improve water quality and let trout reach important upstream habitat. Because the dam was historically notable, remnants were left both underwater and along the shore to allow access by those interested in the past.


The Service’s Fish Passage Program funded the removal of Long Run Dam, near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Multiple partners worked together to improve water quality and let trout reach important upstream habitat. Credit: USFWS

According to Mark Roberts, coordinator for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Pennsylvania, “This project shows that when like-minded people get together, they can produce results that benefit both wildlife and local communities.”

The Norton Paper Mill Dam, on the Jeremy River in Colchester, Connecticut, was built in the early 1800s. Until the 1960s, the mill was the focal point of the Westchester section of the town, supplying jobs for villagers and nearby farmers alike. Nearly 20-feet high, it blocked the upstream movement of migratory fish, including Atlantic salmon, river herring, American eel, and Eastern brook trout.

In 2013, Nan Norton Wasniewski, a descendant of the original owner, chose to work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the town to dismantle the mill and dam. The Service funded the effort through Hurricane Sandy recovery dollars. The removal of the dam in early November 2016 opened 17 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish.

Wasniewski sold the property to the town for $1 to build a public park in her family’s name. Once a place of industry, the site is now a gateway to recreational activities, including paddling and fishing. Wherever possible and safe, artifacts from the mill will become features of the park.


Sally Harold, Director of River Restoration and Fish Passage for TNC in Connecticut. Credit: USFWS

According to Sally Harold, Director of River Restoration and Fish Passage for TNC in Connecticut, the Jeremy River is part of the high-quality Salmon River watershed, which is more than 60 percent forested.

“I live in Fairfield, Connecticut — about an hour outside New York City along the coast — and you can’t go anywhere on a river in that area without seeing houses,” said Harold. “On the Jeremy, you could canoe for an hour without seeing a single house.”

While damming a stream used to show progress, now letting water flow freely means growth. To have safe, healthy communities for both wildlife and people, we need thriving river systems. The Service and its partners are working toward that goal, one dam at a time.

(Lauri Munroe-Hultman is a writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Massachusetts.)

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