A very significant federal grant of $6 million is coming to Maine to restore more than 250 miles of fish habitat in northern and eastern Maine and help private forestland owners reduce the impacts of flooding on road networks. This announcement from the partners in the Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project is a very important one.
The funding is being awarded to The Nature Conservancy and the partnership effort includes more than two dozen entities, including large forestland owners, tribal nations, federal agencies, conservation groups and local operators. This project is one of 88 high-impact projects across the country that will receive $225 million in federal funding as part of the RCPP.
“This project is a win-win investment for the state,” said TNC’s Maine Director, Kate Dempsey. “It will lead to replacement and right-sizing of hundreds of culverts and open up some 250 miles of habitat for Eastern Brook Trout, Atlantic salmon and other fish species. At the same time, it will provide the short-term benefit of construction jobs and long-term benefits that include increased road stability and greater safety throughout Maine’s aging road network.”
The project is the nation’s top ranked funding agreement through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Here’s the December 21 press release announcing this exciting project.
$6M to Fund Major Investment in Private Road Improvements and Fish Habitat
USDA announces the nation’s top-ranked award to Maine project
BANGOR, Maine —
A $6 million federal investment will help private forestland owners reduce the impacts of flooding on road networks and restore more than 250 miles of fish habitat in northern and eastern Maine, the partners in the Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project announced today. The project is the nation’s top ranked funding agreement through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The funding is being awarded to The Nature Conservancy and the partnership effort includes more than two dozen entities, including large forestland owners, tribal nations, federal agencies, conservation groups and local operators. This project is one of 88 high-impact projects across the country that will receive $225 million in federal funding as part of the RCPP.
“By restoring and reconnecting waterways and improving roads and bridges, this project will help improve fish habitats and enhance the forest economy in northern and eastern Maine,” said U.S. Senator Susan Collins. “I commend The Nature Conservancy for partnering with local landowners and others on this collaborative effort that will help protect our environment, improve fishing, and benefit communities throughout the region.”
“This project represents the very best of Maine – environmental stewardship combined with economic growth and driven by innovative collaboration – all of which once again shows that, in Maine, preserving our environment and building our economy can go hand-in-hand,” U.S. Senator Angus King said. “I commend the Nature Conservancy for bringing this group together with the shared goal of improving fish habitats while also strengthening our forest roadway infrastructure, and appreciate the significant investment in Maine’s future from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
“Our State’s fisheries and coastal habitats are treasures and key parts of Maine’s identity, providing for thousands of jobs through tourism, harvesting and other critical industries,” said Congressman Bruce Poliquin (ME-02). “I’m proud to have urged support for this important project and am thrilled to see its approval to help advance our infrastructure and protect our environment and the thousands of Maine families who depend on it.”
The five-year project aims to replace several hundred culverts, restoring some 250 miles of brooks, streams and rivers in over a dozen priority watersheds in northern and eastern Maine.
The project provides the short-term benefit of construction jobs with long-term benefits that include increased road stability and greater safety throughout Maine’s aging road network. The project will focus on waterways that have some of the last endangered Atlantic salmon populations in the United States as well as critical Eastern brook trout habitat. Fragmented aquatic habitat is identified as a primary threat to both species, degrading healthy stream function and keeping fish from some of the most important spawning and rearing habitat.
The Nature Conservancy will work collaboratively with other conservation groups, tribal nations, other major landowners, local roads managers, and state and federal agencies to ensure the proper installation and repair of culverts to improve stream health while also helping communities that count on secure road networks to withstand severe storms.
“When so many talented partners come together to address natural resource concerns, they bring innovative ideas and expertise that one agency or group might not have been able to develop alone,” NRCS-Maine State Conservationist Juan Hernandez explained. “The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is focused on encouraging these types of partnerships. With the expert lead of The Nature Conservancy, I believe that the partnerships advanced through the Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project will truly accomplish amazing results for our aquatic wildlife passage in Maine.”
The project partners are pledging to more than double the investment in roads from the $6 million awarded from the RCPP for this five-year project. This level of commitment and funding stands to dramatically increase rate, efficiency and quality of river restoration in Maine and beyond. The lessons learned by road planners and contractors, community decision makers and wildlife managers will have a broad and long-lasting impact on the health of Maine’s natural resources.
“The landowners in Maine’s commercial working forest, which includes roughly nine million acres, have a strong commitment to stewardship,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council. “Participating in this effort will enable them to further identify and upgrade crossings with high priority fisheries habitats during the normal course of forestry operations.”
“With over 11 million acres of Maine forest in private hands,” said 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.”
The return of healthy rivers and streams helps local economies by increasing sport fishing and other recreational opportunities, while also restoring subsistence fishing to Maine’s tribes. In addition, these types of improvements reduce long-term road maintenance costs. Restored waterways improve natural conditions for aquatic plant and animal life all the way to where rivers meet the sea, positively impacting near and offshore fisheries.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program was developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners. RCPP offers new opportunities for the NRCS, conservation partners and agricultural producers to work together to harness innovation, expand the conservation mission, and demonstrate the value and efficacy of voluntary, private lands conservation. The program is increasing investment in conservation from a diversity of partners, leading to cleaner and more abundant water, improved soil and air quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, and stronger rural economies. This is the third year that the program has funded conservation projects in Maine.
Partners in the project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 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.
The Project Area includes the last endangered Atlantic salmon listed watersheds and some of the highest quality remaining Eastern brook trout habitat in the United States. Habitat fragmentation is identified as a primary threat in the NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Salmon 5-year Action Plan (2016), NOAA/NMFS Salmon Recovery Plan (2009), as well as the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture Conservation Plan (2015).
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides leadership and technical assistance to address natural resource conservation issues on private land. NRCS employees work to improve and protect natural resources in partnership with Maine’s 16 Soil and Water Conservation Districts, federal, state and local agencies, farmers, landowners and communities. The partnership’s commitment to conservation provides a solid foundation to a locally-led program delivery system. The partnership is also committed to a voluntary, incentive-based approach to private land stewardship and conservation treatment. To learn more, visit www.me.nrcs.usda.gov
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. The Nature Conservancy has been working in Maine for nearly 60 years and is the 12th largest landowner in the state, owning and managing roughly 300,000 acres. We also work across the state to restore rivers and streams to support healthy fish populations and with commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Maine to rebuild groundfish populations. To learn more, visit www.nature.org