Conservation Planning Assistance
Biologists at the Maine Field Office are actively involved with State and Federal regulatory agencies to minimize the impacts of federally licensed, permitted, or funded projects on fish and wildlife resources. Our role in the review of these projects, which can includes dams, highways, and commercial and residential developments, is mandated by the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. This law requires Federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on all projects that affect wetlands, streams, lakes, and rivers to ensure that the well-being of fish and wildlife and their habitats are taken into account. Regulatory agencies, such as the Corps of Engineers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, rely on the biologically sound recommendations of our office to minimize the environmental impacts of projects that are authorized or implemented by these agencies.
Maine roads, whether they are six-lane paved highways or one-lane gravel roads, have thousands and thousands of crossings of rivers, streams, ponds, and wetlands. MEFO biologists work with the Maine Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, towns, and private landowners to make roads crossings as “invisible” as possible to fish and other aquatic organisms that need to move from place to place in a stream to survive. Many existing stream crossings in Maine represent a partial or complete barrier to fish, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates like crayfish. Undersized culverts even cause problems for mammals like mink and raccoons, which would rather travel along a stream’s bank than over a road where they are vulnerable to vehicle collisions.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - FERC
Anson Powerhouse. Photo Credit: Steve Shepard, USFWS
Hydropower re-licensing is about restoring habitat connectivity, while allowing for continued production of hydroelectric power, a renewable source of energy. We also look at other impacts of hydropower plant operation on other wildlife and their habitat, including species like loons and eagles and wetland habitat. Many fish spawn in shallow water habitat – if a hydropower dam’s reservoir’s water level rises and falls to an extent that shallow water habitat is poorly develop, or periodically dried out or flooded, you can see how there would be impacts to species. Loons nest on the ground along the perimeter of lakes – if the water levels do not follow natural cycles of high and low water, loon nests may be destroyed and loons driven away.
An Example of What CPA Biologists at MEFO can Accomplish:
In 2005 to 2006, MEFO staff worked on review of a proposal by the City of Brewer and the Maine Department of Transportation to conduct bank stabilization activities and construct a multi-purpose trail along the Penobscot River. This project needed a permit from the Corps of Engineers. Given unavoidable impacts to the river and adjacent wetlands, MEFO recommended to the Corps of Engineers that the project proponents be required to provide compensatory mitigation for these impacts to aquatic resources. As a consequence, the Corps’ permit required removal of the Brewer Dam on Sedgeunkedunk Stream to restore free-flowing stream habitat and improve upstream passage for a variety of diadromous fish that historically used this stream. The dam was removed in the summer of 2009, and in 2011 a small run of alewives returned to Sedgeunkedunk Stream! During the summer of 2009, small numbers of juvenile Atlantic salmon were found in the area of the dam; so we are hopeful that Atlantic salmon will once again be able to spawn in Sedgeunkedunk Stream.
This project is a great example of how MEFO biologists work with others to achieve their objectives (i.e., stabilize eroding banks along the Penobscot River, which was negatively affecting property owners) while also achieving positive benefits for fish and wildlife resources in Maine. Knowing of this effort downstream in Brewer, the Town of Orrington undertook a complementary project on Sedgeunkedunk Stream to replace the dam at the outlet of Fields Pond with a rock ramp fish passage structure. Now, fish can move into Sedgeunkedunk Stream from the Penobscot River and have free passage many miles upstream into Fields Pond, a phenomenon that was impossible for many decades.
Left: Bank stabilization work on the Penobscot River completed by the City of Brewer and Maine Department of Transportation, as authorized by a permit from the Corps of Engineers.
Left:Brewer Dam site after removal in 2011. Alewives can now pass through this area on their way upstream to spawning habitat in Fields Pond.
Read more about our work to protect wetlands, ensure fish passage at hydroelectric plants, protect migratory birds and bats from wind turbines, maintain and improve stream flows and habitats, and promote development options that also conserve fish and wildlife and their habitats for all Maine people to enjoy.
Wind power development review. During the now almost forgotten industrial revolution, industry needed ready sources of power and the rivers and streams along the east coast were abundant and powerful potential sources in energy. Due to steep gradients along their courses, dams could be built to utilize “hydraulic head” that could be made higher by impounding streams and rivers. At first, mill dams were built to provide energy for one or two mills on site; as the industrial revolution grew and as electricity as a source of energy was discovered, dams were converted to produce electricity by passing falling water through electricity generating turbines.
A nation hungry for energy moved rapidly ahead, without considering that there were impacts to the abundant natural resources of those rivers, including anadromous fish and species which rely on fast moving highly oxygenated and cool water to survive. Now we are engaged in a struggle to try to reestablish those runs of millions of anadromous fish, and restore freshwater mussel diversity in what free flowing rivers remain. We want to try to keep this from happening in the realm of wind power development. Rivers of air carry migratory birds and bats and have done so for tens of thousands of years, maybe longer. Installation of large arrays of wind turbines could adversely affect migration patterns for birds and bats which already face great obstacles, including habitat loss in their wintering grounds, habitat loss in their breeding grounds, and introduction of invasive species. By engaging early in the process of developing wind power projects, it is our hope that we can recommend which potential sites may be unsuitable to both clean energy production and a viable migratory bird and bat population. We need much more information to be able to predict with certainty what impacts may be long lasting, what adaptations individuals may be able to make, and what impacts changes in behavior might have on a species. We seek information on how high, how far out to sea, where on the landscape birds and bats migrate, and what movements they may make within breeding territories which may be selected for wind power project siting.