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  • Penobscot River Restoration Project final milestone - reconnects river to the sea

    In June, 2016 federal, state, local, and tribal representatives, and project partners gathered in Howland, Maine, to mark and celebrate the completion of the last major milestone in the Penobscot River Restoration Project: the newly constructed fish bypass around the dam in Howland.

    “The Service is proud to have spent over a decade working with the partnership to creatively craft and create a better future for the Penobscot River, modeling how we should restore rivers across the globe,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have completed monumental construction projects, energy improvements, and other steps redefining how the Penobscot River serves fish, the people of Maine, and the Penobscot Indian Nation. This project has managed to do it all: restore vital habitat for fish and wildlife, support energy needs, and create new economic and recreational opportunities throughout the watershed.”

    Completion of this large stream-like channel will allow American shad, river herring, and Atlantic salmon to swim freely around the dam to and from important historic breeding, rearing, and nursery habitat for the first time in more than a century. The Howland fish bypass fulfills the Penobscot Project’s goal of significantly improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of Maine’s largest river for eleven species of native sea-run fish, while maintaining energy through increased hydropower generation at other dams in the watershed.

    (River reflection, photo by Ramona du Houx)

    The Penobscot Project is widely considered one of the largest, most innovative river restoration projects in the nation-

    “Construction of the Howland bypass is another milestone in efforts to restore Maine’s native sea-run fisheries in the Penobscot River,” said Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Passage of anadromous fish species is critical to the health of our state’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will not only provide access to hundreds of miles of critical habitat to Maine’s native sea-run fish, it will ensure continued opportunity for renewable power generation on the Penobscot River.”

    Four years ago, in June 2012, the Great Works Dam removal began, followed by the removal of the Veazie Dam at the head of tide in 2013. At the same time, dam owners built a fish elevator at the Milford Dam, now the only dam on the lower Penobscot.  Dam owners increased power generation at several other locations within the Penobscot watershed to maintain and even increase power generation. 

    Today, the river is on the rebound. This year, more than 1.7 million river herring have already passed above dams removed by the Penobscot Project – up from only several thousand before the Veazie Dam was removed. Fish are now swimming upriver past Howland and into the Piscataquis and through the Mattaceunk Dam on the Penobscot in Medway, and have been observed more than 90 miles upriver from Penobscot Bay. In addition, a record-breaking 2,700 shad passed by Milford this spring. In another exciting development, last week fisheries experts saw the first American shad in recent history passing the West Enfield dam.

    New community activities abound. The new national whitewater race, a 4-day event featuring activities from Old Town to Eddington, is entering its second year.  An annual alewife festival and children’s days has begun at Blackman Stream in Bradley, where more than 450,000 river herring swam up the stream this past month.

    “Construction of the Howland bypass is another milestone in efforts to restore Maine’s native sea-run fisheries in the Penobscot River,” said Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Passage of anadromous fish species is critical to the health of our state’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will not only provide access to hundreds of miles of critical habitat to Maine’s native sea-run fish, it will ensure continued opportunity for renewable power generation on the Penobscot River.”

    Dam owners, conservation groups, tribal, state, and federal agencies, and citizens, worked together for more than a decade to accomplish the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which better balances restoration of native sea-run fish with hydropower generation.

    “NOAA Fisheries congratulates the Penobscot River Restoration Trust on their completion of the nature-like bypass in Howland, and looks forward to the continued restoration of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River watershed,” says Dan Morris, Deputy Regional Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. “The Trust, its member organizations, State of Maine, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Penobscot Indian Nation have been wonderful partners in the Penobscot River Restoration Project over the years.”

    Restoring the Penobscot Indian Nation's river-

    The restored river provides many cultural, economic, and recreational opportunities from the Penobscot headwaters to the Gulf of Maine. As a result of the project, the river now better supports Penobscot Indian Nation tribal culture, renews traditional uses, provides major benefits to fish and wildlife, and increases business and regulatory certainty for dam owners.

    “The Penobscot River watershed is the ancestral home of the Penobscot Nation, and has sustained our tribal members since time immemorial,” said Kirk Francis, Chief of the Penobscot Nation. “The Penobscot River Restoration Project has allowed our tribe to continue our role as the original stewards of this great resource and we are proud to have been a part of a project that will benefit generations of all peoples well in to the future.”

    The Penobscot Project also demonstrates how diverse interests can work together to develop results-based approaches to fisheries restoration and hydropower basin-wide. This type of approach could serve as a model for other efforts around the world.

    Like the overall Penobscot Project, the Howland Bypass was funded through a combination of federal and private sources, with major funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fish Passage Program.  The Howland Bypass design and construction team included Kleinschmidt, Inter-Fluve, Inc., Haley Aldrich, CES, Inc. and SumCo Eco-Contracting.

    The Penobscot River Restoration Trust is a nonprofit organization responsible for completing the core elements of the Penobscot Project. Members are the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy. Other major partners include the State of Maine (Department of Marine Resources, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife), Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs), PPL Corporation, and Black Bear Hydro Partners LLC.     

     

  • Keep looking up for migrating birds that stay longer in Maine

    Migration is a system of organized chaos. Sure, songbirds fly south for the winter. But they might fly north, west or east, or just fly around randomly before heading south. Eventually, most of them will end up on their normal wintering grounds, but getting there is half the fun.

    I grew up thinking that birds flew south in prearranged fashion, following the arrows drawn on maps that depicted the Atlantic Flyway, the Mississippi Flyway, the Central Flyway and the Pacific Flyway. That’s what my books told me. I suppose most birds do behave according to such models, but there are a bunch of rogues out there that make life interesting this time of year.

    In early September, our birds depart predictably, following favorable winds southbound. If our own birds wander elsewhere we wouldn’t know it — out of sight, out of mind. What we do know is that some birds departing from elsewhere end up here. By late September, anything can happen, and often does.

    Many species enter a period of post-breeding dispersal. They nest in predictable places, and when those chores are over, they wander. The best example in Bangor has been teasing birders for over a month. Great egrets nest in southern Maine. This year, a bunch of them wandered up here during post-breeding dispersal and took a liking to Essex Woods. They are so conspicuous, they can be seen from the highway by passing motorists. Eventually, they’ll fly south.

    Some birds deliberately wander. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only nesting hummingbirds east of the Mississippi, but some western hummingbirds wander east when they are done nesting. The rufous hummingbird, in particular, has a habit of drifting into Maine later in autumn. Although most of our hummingbirds are gone by mid-September, I always advise leaving feeders up until frost. You never know what might visit in October.

    Some birds get blown off course in bad weather, especially those that have a habit of wandering anyway. Cave swallows nest in the Caribbean, with small colonies in Florida and Texas. They are famous for wandering after breeding, and they aren’t particularly troubled when blown north. They sometimes show up along the Maine coast in October.

    Migration forces many species to fly long distances over water. They really don’t want to. It’s a big risk. But their wintering grounds are on the far side of the Caribbean and there is little choice. Songbirds from Atlantic Canada typically work their way down the coast of Nova Scotia, meandering back and forth until they get up the courage to cross the Gulf of Maine. They touch down on the first land they find, or even on boats if necessary.

    Maine islands are notorious migrant traps. King of these is Monhegan, 10 miles from the midcoast mainland. While many Maine inns are reaching the end of their peak seasons, the inns on Monhegan are typically full this time of year. Birders flock from everywhere to see what rarities have fallen out there.

    Although Monhegan is only a mile long, there are 17 miles of walking trails crisscrossing the island. However, many of the visiting birds merely forage around town where there are bushes, hedges and ornamental fruit trees. It can be possible to find 20 species of warbler in a morning. Generally, the birds are so tired and hungry that they ignore people. Close, easy views are the norm.

    However, it is the likelihood of rare birds that attracts so many birders to Monhegan in late September. Lark sparrows nest from the Great Lakes to the west coast, nowhere near Maine. A few turn up on Monhegan every autumn. Clay-colored sparrows are expanding their breeding range eastward into Maine, but only in miniscule numbers. The ones that turn up on Monhegan in autumn have likely gotten lost and wandered from the Midwest.

    Summer tanagers are a southern bird, with a nesting range north to New Jersey. Somehow, a few end up on Monhegan every autumn, and that is decidedly in the wrong direction for a bird that should be heading to the tropics.

    You’d have to go to the grasslands of central states to find a nesting dickcissel. I saw my first in Tennessee on June 26, 1999. Western kingbirds reside west of the Mississippi. Both species are infamous wanderers in the fall, and Monhegan vacuums up any bird that roams into the Atlantic.

    Don’t think of yourself as planning too late for Monhegan this year. Think of yourself as planning early for next year.

    Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information atmainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.