Tag Archives: The Nature Conservancy

Grant funding gets students outdoors

More students are experiencing all the wonders nature has to offer thanks to new grant funding. It all started last year with the Big Share meeting, convened by Margaret Van Clief of The Nature Conservancy. This meeting brings together environmental educators on the Eastern Shore  to share ideas, brainstorm creative topics to promote learning, enjoy networking and lunch, and in this case last year; tour the rocket launch facility at NASA Wallops Island. It was during this meeting that Lynn Bowen of the ES Migrant Head Start broached the need for outdoor education and off site field trips for her students. And it was during this meeting where the idea of bringing migrant students to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge took off.

The refuge applied for grant funding from the ES Soil and Water District and was awarded the funds earlier this year. The goal was to support a Monarch Education program for the Migrant Head Start Students in Cheriton, and transportation to and from field trip sites. Migrant students move throughout the year with seasonal crops. So does the monarch butterfly.  Monarchs inspire people; their habitat provides outdoor recreation opportunities like hunting and wildlife observation. Unfortunately, habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch’s range; and field trips to the refuge for migrant students was a great way to educate future generations.

Grant funds were utilized to purchase bus passes from STAR Transit. John Maher, transit manager, gave the first group of 17 students aged 3-4 and adults a rare treat of riding in their brand new bus down to the refuge. It was during that field trip in late June of this year that students learned about the monarch’s lifecycle, habitat, and their migration from the U.S. to Mexico. Students also had the opportunity to take a butterfly walk to the pollinator gardens with Refuge Volunteers Barry and Caroline Hughes, both vacationing work camping volunteers from Texas. A second field trip in late July allowed the students to assemble huge butterfly life-cycle floor puzzles, observe butterflies and birds from the indoor wildlife viewing area with Park Ranger Rosalie Valente.  Dedicated Refuge Volunteers Kathy Fountaine, Bob Toner and Susan Russell facilitated learning stations which included an indoor touch tank and an interactive story about butterflies. Another outdoor pollinator garden walk was also facilitated.

As if two field trips weren’t enough, students were treated again to a third trip in early September to the Cape Charles Memorial Library. There, Librarians Anne Routledge and Sharon Silvey facilitated story and song time, along with indoor crafts with the group of 12 3-4 year old students. Many of the students had never visited a library before. Students also went on a birding walk to the Cape Charles Fishing Pier, where Refuge Volunteers Joe Woodward and Midge Franco pointed out Ospreys and Gulls to the students.

Throughout this series of three field trips, students had the opportunity to experience the outdoors and connect with nature in a unique way. The language barrier didn’t prove to be a challenge, as once students saw Butterflies (or Mariposas-in Spanish) and Birds (pajaros-in Spanish);  their curiosities were sparked and this allowed for a unique learning opportunity that is experienced outdoors and with the assistance of dedicated volunteers, staff members, and agencies on the shore. The results of this was possible due in large part to Margret Van Clief’s Big Share meeting, where not only the need for outdoor education for migrant students was shared, but also new partnerships.

Stairway to Fish Heaven

To the casual observer, the Bradford Dam may appear to be one with nature. The dark gray stone is weathered and chipped from over 200 years of holding back the Pawcatuck River’s flow, and green shoots have wormed their way into the structure, prying pebble-sized bits loose.

To migratory fish, however, the dam in Westerly, R.I., remains what it’s been since it was built: a sheer 6-foot wall keeping them from their traditional spawning grounds upstream. And although a fish ladder helps species like American shad and river herring get past the dam, it can’t accommodate them all.

Grasses and saplings sprout from within the dam structure. Credit: USFWS

For this reason, the Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to replace this unnatural impediment with a nature-like step pool. The pool will resemble a series of natural falls – or, if you squint, a short flight of stairs – and will be easier for fish to traverse.

The step-pool design will include a 10-foot-wide channel allowing canoes and kayaks to pass easily through the area. It will eliminate an awkward portage for paddlers almost immediately downstream of the popular boat launch at Bradford Landing.

The project is supported by $1.98 million of federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects. Following tree removal and construction of a bypass channel this month, work on the dam will begin in July.

According to Service Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, in addition to improving fish passage, removal of the Bradford Dam will reduce local flooding and eliminate the risk of dam failure in future storms.

The Pawcatuck River flows gently through the forests of Rhode Island. Credit: USFWS

“We’re proud to join with The Nature Conservancy in strengthening natural defenses along the Atlantic Coast to protect communities and wildlife against future storms,” Weber said.  “By connecting and opening waterways like the Pawcatuck River, we can improve flood control, restore habitat for fish and wildlife, and contribute to the local economy and quality of life.”

The Service has been working with partners for several years to dismantle obsolete dams like the Bradford, which impede river flow without offering benefits to people or wildlife. Another project on the Pawcatuck, removal of the White Rock Dam, was completed in 2016 with great success – one year later, migratory fish counts are the highest in 15 years, and recreational and commercial fishing has improved.

“Dam removal and fishway construction allow fish and other aquatic species use of more and better habitat critical for their survival in southern New England’s rivers,” said Scott Comings, associate state director for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island.

The Bradford and other dam removal projects represent a watershed moment for the Pawcatuck: not only will fish find easier, safer travels on their way upstream, but paddlers and anglers will enjoy 22 miles of unimpeded water, and local residents will be better protected from flooding. The removals are, both literally and figuratively, a step in the right direction for the river and the community.

Bye-bye Bottlenecks: Ensuring Safe Passage for Salmon in Maine

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

Don’t you hate it when you’re cruising along the Interstate and “Lane Closed Ahead” signs start popping up? Soon, a sea of brake lights appears, and traffic slows to a crawl, as cars squeeze through the narrowed roadway. Suddenly, getting where you want to go is much more difficult.

Perhaps this is how an Atlantic salmon feels when, making its way upstream to spawn, the waterway funnels to a small opening under a road. Its journey, one programmed into its DNA and necessary for the survival of the species, becomes many times harder than expected, if not impossible.


Undersized culverts like this one on a tributary to the Upper Sandy River in Phillips, Maine, hinder upstream migration of fish such as Atlantic salmon and Eastern brook trout and cause road washouts. Credit: USFWS

Maine’s aging roadways are littered with undersized culverts that prevent safe passage of fish and other animals and cause costly washouts during storms. Thanks to a recent grant from the Federal government, however, many outdated culverts will be replaced with wider archways that allow water and wildlife to pass more easily.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $6 million to replace several hundred undersized culverts on private forestland in northern and eastern Maine and restore about 250 miles of waterway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the principal partners in the five-year Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project that involves large forestland owners, tribal nations, conservation groups and local operators.

The project is the nation’s top-ranked funding agreement through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by NRCS. It’s one of 88 high-impact projects across the country that will receive $225 million in Federal funding.

The Service worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to set restoration priorities and draft the project proposal. The agency will contribute more than $1.3 million, and staff will help with surveys and assessments, engineering and conceptual designs, environmental compliance, fish removal, project management and monitoring activities.

In addition to the Service and TNC, project partners include Project SHARE, Maine Audubon, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Passamaquoddy Indian Nations. As a group, the partners have pledged to match or exceed the $6 million contribution to Maine’s infrastructure.

In a typical restoration, workers remove an old, rusted culvert, perhaps three-to-four feet in diameter, and replace it with a larger arch or bridge similar in width to upstream and downstream stretches. The resulting natural stream bed and water depth and flow let fish pass through easily. Other wildlife, such as beaver, mink, muskrats, turtles, snakes and frogs, can cross under the roadway via dry banks inside of the structure. The wider passageway can accommodate floodwaters, protecting the road during storms.


The completed project offers improved fish passage and increased protection against flooding. Credit: USFWS

The project will focus on waterways with some of the last endangered Atlantic salmon populations in the United States and critical Eastern brook trout habitat. Undersized culverts hinder the migration of these species, often keeping them from important spawning and rearing areas upstream.

While employing construction workers in the short-term, the project also will increase road stability and safety throughout Maine’s forestlands, supporting the forest industry, recreation and local economies. Healthy rivers and streams offer clean drinking water and enhanced sport fishing. Maine’s tribes will gain access to subsistence fishing, and downstream fisheries as far as the coast will benefit from improved water quality.


Service staff from the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, Maine Field Office of Ecological Services and Moosehorn and Lake Umbagog national wildlife refuges worked together to remove the old culvert and replace it with a 12-foot-wide concrete arch. Credit: USFWS

Jed Wright, project leader of the Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, is excited to work with partners to increase the pace of restoring stream connectivity in Maine. “We’re committed to helping private landowners implement great projects by providing funding, conducting site surveys, designing replacement structures, and ensuring that construction will have minimal impact on fish and their habitats,” Wright said.

“With over 11 million acres of Maine forest in private hands,” added Kate Dempsey, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, “this project stands ultimately to influence stream-friendly management on thousands of miles of some of the best aquatic habitat in the East and spur innovations and efficiencies to influence restoration even more broadly nationally as we and our partners share lessons from this project.”

And that means more waterways with smooth sailing for species traveling upstream. Now, if we could do something about those Interstate bottlenecks….

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