Fish Passage 2012 keynote speaker Rebecca Wodder. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS
Rebecca Wodder, Senior Advisor to Secretary of the Interior, kicked off Fish Passage 2012 (National Conference on Engineering and Ecohydrology), a conference held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus June 5-7, 2012.
Wodder, former president of American Rivers, a national non-profit conservation organization, felt at home among the more than 300 participants of the conference. “I have a long-standing appreciation for the work that has drawn you here today,” she said.
She noted the second anniversary of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative, which Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has championed. Wodder leads a River Initiative for AGO, part of a three-pronged strategy that also includes urban parks and large landscapes. The mission of the River Initiative is to improve river recreation and restoration.
With AGO, the Department of the Interior has recognized 51 projects, one for every state and the District of Columbia. About a quarter of those projects involve removal of barriers to fish passage. Other projects also help fish passage by improving water quality and fish habitat.
“I’m glad to be here today to see the interdisciplinary approach to fish passage,” Wodder said. She acknowledged the sciences of engineering, hydrology, and biology and the graduate program at the University of Massachusetts in fish passage.
Over the past few years, fisheries biologists and fish passage engineers at the Service’s Northeast Region in Hadley have worked with the university to develop a degree in Master’s of Civil Engineering with Specialization in Fish Passage. The program meets the growing demand for highly trained professional fish passage engineers.
And although Fish Passage 2012 focused on river restoration for fish and wildlife habitat, Wodder reminded participants about multiple benefits of restoration. “Regardless of what brought you here today, we share the same motivations. Sustainable rivers are healthy rivers; ecologically, socially, and economically."
Social benefits include improving public safety and reducing property damage during flood events. Last year Tropical Storm Irene damaged 500 bridges and 1,000 culverts in Vermont, closing 2,000 sections of road. Fish-friendly road crossings designed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withstood the event. Read more about the Service's partnership in Vermont.
Wodder said she looks to the Service a partner to bring the issue of undersized culverts, particularly in rural areas, to the forefront because fish-friendly culverts save taxpayer money as well as fish habitat. “The economic benefit to river restoration is estimated to be one half million dollars per mile of restoration,” she said.
She also praised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and supporters for their work in connecting landscapes and waterways through the visionary approach of designating 7.2 million acres along the Connecticut River watershed as the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. As a result of these efforts, Secretary Salazar recently named the Connecticut River as the first National Blueway.
“Congratulations to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private folks for getting us to this moment,” she said.
After delivering her keynote address, Wodder headed to the places she loves best -- rivers -- to view restoration projects. She accompanied Service personnel and partners to rural Massachusetts hilltowns of Becket and Chester to see past and proposed dam removals and proposed road crossing projects on tributaries to the Westfield River. Read more about these projects.
Wodder emphasized that fish passage work matters to her, Secretary Salazar, and the general public. “Fish passage is key to healthy rivers and healthy rivers are key to healthy communities. All is connected and there’s a magic to it,” she concluded.
Graduates of the UMass Master’s of Civil Engineering with
Specialization in Fish Passage program. Credit: Catherine J.
Jan Rowan of USFWS National Fish Passage Program,
Northeast Regional Office,
consults with conference organizer
and UMass Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering
professor David Ahlfeld. Credit: Catherine J. Hibbard/USFWS