Session 4: Developing a network to facilitate interdisciplinary approaches to healing Maine’s rivers

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All Day Session – 8:30AM-10:30AM and 1:30PM-4:00PM
Penobscot/Kennebec Room, First Floor

Session Co-chairs
Chris Reidy, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Bill Bennett, US Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program
Justin Stevens, Maine Sea Grant

Maine’s rivers have a long history of industrial use and subsequently are impaired with remnant dams, over widened channels, low volume of wood, and poor sediment transport resulting in a simplified and static system unable to support its native biota. Increasingly, restoration efforts are focusing on addressing the sources of these impairments to restore stream processes in a manner that will allow the creation of a structurally complex and dynamic system that is self-sustaining. The increased habitat complexity is hypothesized to benefit species of conservation focus, including Atlantic Salmon and Eastern Brook Trout, and to improve overall coldwater habitat conditions.

As more groups and organizations become involved with instream habitat projects, it will become increasingly important to take a strategic approach to stream restoration efforts through sharing new techniques and lessons learned and coordination of efforts. Our goal for this session is to introduce the Instream Habitat Working Group as a platform for sharing technology and stream habitat restoration efforts and also highlight the latest efforts in Maine and beyond to diagnose, design, fund, implement, and monitor river restoration projects. We invite talks that can demonstrate case studies to inform and progress the science and understanding of river restoration for a wide range of audiences from practitioners to the public. We encourage presenters to highlight challenges and opportunities for instream habitat restoration work in Maine.

The objective of the Instream Habitat Working Group is to provide expertise to facilitate voluntary restoration of riverine habitat for native species in Maine through a multi- disciplinary approach to process-based restoration. The group serves as a resource for river restoration by providing education, outreach, training, and the development of technical guidance to restoration practitioners, landowners, tribal nations, the forest products industry, government entities, natural resource managers, and other interested parties.

Session Schedule

Morning Session

Afternoon Session

8:30AM – 8:45AM

Developing a Network to Facilitate Interdisciplinary Approaches to Healing Maine’s Rivers

Christopher Reidy (1), William Bennett (2), Christopher Federico (3), Danielle Freschette (4), Merry Gallagher (5), Thomas Gilbert (6), Sarah Haggerty (7), Mark Jordan (8), John Maclaine (9), Blaine Miller (10), Valerie Ouelett (11), Justin Stevens (12), Valerie Watson (13)

  1. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  2. Fish and Wildlife Service
  3. Project SHARE
  4. Maine Department of Marine Resources
  5. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
  6. Maine Forest Service
  7. Maine Audubon
  8. University of Maine, School of Earth & Climate Sciences 
  9. Maine Department of Environmental Protection
  10. Dirigo Timberlands
  11. Integrated Statistics, Inc. in support of NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center
  12. Maine Sea Grant
  13. Climate Science Information Exchange

There has been an increase in stream habitat restoration efforts by a variety of government, NGO, and other entities throughout Maine in recent years. This increased interest has created a need to coordinate efforts to ensure inclusion of all interested stakeholders and to provide a means to share current technical information. The formation of the Instream Habitat Working Group (ISHWG) is intended to fill that niche. The objective of ISHWG is to provide expertise to facilitate voluntary restoration of riverine habitat for native species in Maine through a multi-disciplinary approach to process-based restoration. The group will serve as a resource for river restoration by providing education, outreach, training, and the development of technical guidance to restoration practitioners, landowners, tribal nations, the forest products industry, government entities, natural resource managers, and other interested parties. This presentation will introduce ISHWG and discuss how it intends to help facilitate instream habitat restoration in the state of Maine.

8:45AM – 9:00AM

Perspectives on Restoration of Instream Habitat Quality in Maine Rivers

Michael Burke, Keith Kantack, Martin Melchior, Matt Cox, Emily Alcott

In combination with fully-connected river corridors, high-quality instream and floodplain habitats which support the life history strategies of Maine’s native sea-run and freshwater fish species and their associated ecological communities are essential to recovery, conservation, and sustainability. Although naturalized, Maine riverine habitats bear the legacy of centuries of anthropogenic impact, from settlement and landscape conversion, to forestry practices, subsequent industrialization, and development pressures. These impacts superposed over an already mature, glaciated landscape to result in static habitats that lack diversity, richness, and quality, and are often unable to overcome their degraded quality under present hydrological and sedimentary regimes. Sustainable habitat restoration requires holistic, cross-disciplinary, process-based strategies that recover the ecology of aquatic ecosystems, and do not focus singularly on individual charismatic species or life stages. In effecting successful process-based restoration, it is essential to understand the present geomorphic and ecological trajectory, and to plan actions that adapt the trajectory to result in functional habitat conditions. It is also critical to recognize the legacy of impacts that are unlikely to be overcome or factors such as climate that will never return to pre-impact conditions, leading to a future condition that is normative and novel, but unlikely to be truly ‘restored’. Furthermore, restoration planning must establish that the fundamental processes (eg hydrology, sediment supply) are effectively in place to evolve and sustain the habitats from early-constructed to mature, late-successional conditions. Where the processes are not intact, or are limited, supplemental adaptations must be considered. Lastly, restoration planning must embrace the diversity of ecological and geomorphic process domains within Maine’s watersheds, from the mountains to the sea, and recognize that one approach does not fit all, with unique strategies required for unique domains. This presentation will explore these themes, and provide examples from case studies to explore their practical applications to essential habitats from around the country.

9:00AM – 9:15AM

Monitoring Impacts of Large Wood Additions on Maine Stream Communities Through Environmental DNA

Beth Yima Davis (1) (student), Sarah Nelson (2), Karina Ricker (2,3), Carolyn Ziegra (2), Andrew Rominger (1,4)

  1. College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture, University of Maine
  2. Appalachian Mountain Club
  3. Department of Biology, Dalhousie University
  4. School of Life Sciences, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Large wood addition restorations are a long-used technique to return complexity and habitat to stream reaches, particularly reaches that have undergone years of logging or other habitat disruption. However, studies have not found consistent results for how these additions impact stream communities, with a major difficulty being the remoteness of many restoration sites. Traditional specimen-based sampling is also time and energy-intensive, and cannot always be done to monitor the success of restoration. In our remote stream sites, we tested the practicality and efficiency of using environmental DNA for metabarcoding to monitor large wood restorations. Water samples were collected along stream reaches in 2022 and 2023, capturing snapshots of stream communities before and after wood installation. Using COI and 12S primers, we focused on how restoration impacted fish and benthic macroinvertebrates. Through two years of data, we can compare how stream communities shifted in response to the addition projects. Equally importantly, we identify areas of the environmental DNA workflow that can be improved before use as a regular monitoring method in Maine streams.

9:15AM – 9:30AM

Forests for Maine Fish

Sally Stockwell
Maine Audubon

Forests for Maine Fish is a new program associated with Forestry for Maine Birds that focuses on how to manage riparian areas to benefit fish and other wildlife that use streamside habitat. Come learn about the strong but underappreciated connection between the forest and fish habitat, how to enhance both instream and riparian habitat by managing for older, structurally complex stands with lots of standing and down wood, and about the many other semi-aquatic and terrestrial wildlife species that depend on riparian habitat for nesting, denning, feeding, and traveling. We will introduce you to key species associated with this habitat and share recommendations on how to enhance habitat features in the riparian area to benefit these species. We will also touch on the importance of maintaining adequate shade in the riparian area as the climate continues to warm, especially for coldwater fish. The program is led by Maine Audubon but has had extensive input from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, Forest Stewards Guild, and Maine Tree Foundation. New guides may be available by conference time.

9:30AM – 9:45AM

Diving into Holistic Restoration

Valerie Ouellet (1), John Kocik (2)

  1. Integrated Statistics, Inc. in support of NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center
  2. NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Freshwater ecosystems are essential components of the human environment that provide a wide array of ecosystem services – fostering biological and habitat diversity, maintaining  ecological balance through nutrients cycling and energy flux, and supporting human drinking water, food, transport, and energy needs. Their transformation due to human activities impacted abundance and distribution of species and altered ecosystem structure and function, and delivery of ecosystem services. Continued deterioration has led to growing concern that the delivery of ecosystem services will be even more substantially reduced. Thus, river restoration has become key in trying to reverse changes due to human pressures. 

Despite these concerns there are still struggles to tackle a holistic restoration approach to river restoration. In fact, restoration actions often assume that restoring physical complexity will also result in biological complexity, and do not necessarily target actions toward biological processes. Moreover, due to time and budget constraints, restoration is often planned at a scale that does not yield the most benefit for the targeted species (e.g., reach scale). With emerging work on riverscapes, we see an opportunity to highlight the importance of the inclusion of biological processes as vital ecosystem components of the restoration process. We also highlight the importance of local context in choosing restoration actions and the importance of appropriate restoration scales to truly embrace the physical and biological complexity necessary for the resilience of aquatic ecosystems in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

9:45AM – 10:00AM

Overcoming Remnant Structures and Obstacles to Process-Based Fisheries Restoration

Garrison Beck (1), Jeff Reardon (2)

  1. VHB
  2. Atlantic Salmon Federation

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), in collaboration with the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), NOAA Fisheries (NOAA) and VHB, has undertaken an assessment of eighteen sites within the Mattawamkeag, Piscataquis, and Lower Penobscot River watersheds. These sites, including lake outlets, remnant dams, and rail crossings, have been assessed as potential barriers to the sea-run fish passage, impacting critical spawning habitats for diadromous species including alewife and Atlantic salmon. Sites chosen for investigation were either labeled as potential passage barriers in the Maine Stream Habitat Viewer or identified by DMR and ASF staff. Working with VHB, the project included initial desktop reviews to prioritize sites using existing available data, field data collection in early November 2023, and documentation in summary reports. The purpose is to develop concise materials that describe site specific conditions, possibilities, and limitations. Results can be used to remove non-barriers from future consideration and to inform and prioritize barriers for further assessment, design, and construction of passage improvements. This presentation will discuss methods for desktop analysis and prioritization, discoveries from field data collection, and challenges to habitat restoration at remnant structures. Specifically, we offer a review of remnant structures that remain as barriers, those which may be barriers in combination with natural processes, and those expected to allow passage in their current condition.

10:00AM – 10:15AM

Technical and Financial Assistance Options for Problem Culverts

Christian Fox (1), Hadley Couraud(1), Sarah Haggerty (2), Merry Gallagher (3)

  1. The Nature Conservancy in Maine
  2. Maine Audubon
  3. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

Undersized culverts (and remnant dams) can challenge road-owners, landowners, citizens, and aquatic organisms: for landowners and infrastructure managers these crossings can be a source of flooding and road wash-outs, while simultaneously impeding the passage of fish and other wildlife. Fortunately, both of these problems can be solved by replacing culverts that create barriers to natural stream flow and fish passage with properly sized and installed structures. Many resources exist to assist landowners, municipalities, conservation organizations, and Tribes in understanding, designing, and funding upgraded crossings. This presentation will overview online resources (hosted by the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy), in-person training opportunities (offered by Maine Audubon), and funding sources (from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Maine Dept. of Transportation) to assist you in addressing problem culverts on your land or in your town.

10:15AM – 10:30AM

Kennebago Headwaters Restoration

Jason Latham
Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust

In 2022, Senator Susan Collins awarded Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust (RLHT) a $1,000,000 Congressionally Directed Spending Grant. This grant aims to restore habitat for wild brook trout populations in the upper Kennebago watershed. RLHT staff and our partners with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified 12 culverts on RLHT fee-owned lands that pose barriers to aquatic organism passage. In August 2023, RLHT replaced two undersized culverts with open-bottomed bridges on Otter Brook and Sol Brook. As a result of these projects, a total of 7.2 miles of critical upstream habitat for brook trout and other aquatic organisms were reconnected. These improved crossings will contribute to the health and resiliency of brook trout populations, allowing them to move unrestricted throughout the watershed to access spawning, rearing, and thermal refuge habitat. RLHT intends to replace four additional crossings in August 2024 and several more in 2025. 

RLHT has also commissioned John Fields, an accomplished geomorphologist with Fields Geology, to complete a geomorphic assessment of the Kennebago watershed. This geomorphic assessment will identify and prioritize areas for restoration and put this project on a solid scientific foundation. Other restoration techniques include working with Trout Unlimited to complete 2.75 miles of strategic wood additions to the Kennebago River tributaries. More strategic wood additions are planned for 2024. RLHT has partnered with the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and began a telemetry study on brook trout and landlocked salmon in Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the Kennebago Watershed.

1:30PM – 2:00PM

Lessons Learned from Twelve Years of Strategic Wood Addition in Northeastern Vermont

Jud Kratzer
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Large woody material is one of the primary factors limiting Brook Trout abundance in northeastern Vermont streams, and large wood loading in these streams is currently lower than historic levels because of past land use and river management practices. Since 2012, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and Trout Unlimited have been strategically adding large woody material to northeastern Vermont streams to improve fish habitat and stream functions.  In this presentation, I will briefly describe the methods we are using to complete these strategic wood additions. I will also explain several lessons we have learned over twelve years of implementing and monitoring these projects. These lessons include tips for implementation, longevity and function of large wood structures, response of Brook Trout populations, and fine sediment storage volume. Our large wood structures are performing several functions, including pool formation, providing cover, capturing sediment and organic material, scouring the stream bed, narrowing the low flow channel, and engaging the floodplain. Brook Trout biomass has more than doubled at sites where large woody material was added. Strategic wood addition projects in northeastern Vermont have resulted in the storage of approximately 1,500 standard dump truck loads of fine sediment.

2:00PM – 2:15PM

A Food Web Perspective on Instream Habitat Restoration in Maine Rivers

Hamish S. Greig (1), Valerie K. Watson (2)

  1. School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine
  2. Maine Climate Science Information Exchange, University of Maine

Many Maine river restoration projects seek to improve the diversity and complexity of instream habitat for Atlantic salmon and brook trout. Often overlooked, however, are the food webs that link changes in physical habitat to the growth and survival of coldwater fishes. For example, productive invertebrate communities may enhance climate adaptation in salmonids by providing food resources to offset increased energetic demands. Moreover, food webs, especially their macroinvertebrates communities, connect habitat patches with each other and with processes operating at broader reach and watershed scales. For example, seasonal and habitat differences in macroinvertebrate communities across a river reach can provide a complex ‘foodscape’ for salmonids that diversifies prey resources in space and time. 

In addition to summarizing these core concepts, we will present results on the response of macroinvertebrate communities and their food resources to large wood addition in the Narraguagus River as an example of how food-web processes can increase our understanding of river restoration outcomes. We found that the response of macroinvertebrates and algae to individual wood additions was highly variable. However, multiple wood additions across 50-100m stream reaches had cumulative effects that increased the diversity and abundance of macroinvertebrates, especially collectors and shredders. Thus, responses to instream habitat restoration can be scale-dependent and vary among organisms with different functional roles in food webs. More broadly, food webs likely underlie the resilience of coldwater stream ecosystems to climate change, and are thus a key component to target and monitor in river restoration activities.

2:15PM – 2:30PM

Funding Sources for Instream Habitat Complexity Projects

Ben Naumann

NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Partnerships and Initiatives

Stream restoration can crudely be broken up into two phases: 1) restoring connectivity, and 2) restoring instream habitat. Maine restoration practitioners have and are continuing to do an amazing job reconnecting watersheds to provide aquatic organisms access to additional habitats to meet their resource needs. In some cases, the newly reconnected habitat is sub-optimal for our native fish species due to a lack of instream habitat elements. Technical and financial assistance for this instream habitat work can be difficult to secure. This presentation will provide valuable information concerning funding for instream aquatic organism habitat restoration projects. This discussion will identify which NRCS funding programs can be utilized, and how these funding sources can be navigated.

2:30PM – 3:00PM

Afternoon Break – Auditorium

3:00PM – 3:15PM

Overcoming Barriers to Barrier Removal

Landis Hudson
Maine Rivers

River and stream restoration is often complicated by the number of barriers involved. While Maine is a leader is aquatic restoration efforts, our waterways are filled with aging dams and improperly sized road culverts that reduce connectivity and ecological health. Generations ago many of our rivers were redirected or straightened, and their banks were changed dramatically. Achieving successful outcomes for ecological restoration today often requires working on multiples barriers with various considerations, as if completing one dam removal is not daunting enough! What are elements that can lead to success? What are some of the common misconceptions or realities that set restoration efforts back? Who needs to be involved in river and stream restoration work? This presentation will explore these questions with examples from the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative where six barriers were removed in seven years to restore a vibrant run of native migratory alewives. That project involved two towns, federal and state agencies (Maine Department of Marine Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service), a land trust and other nonprofits, with many community volunteers.

3:15PM – 3:30PM

Building a Statewide Approach to River and Wetland Restoration in Massachusetts

Beth Lambert
Director, Dept. of Fish and Game, Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration

Massachusetts rivers and wetlands face many threats, including water quality degradation, disruptions to habitat connectivity such as dams and culverts, and excessive streamflow withdrawals. Salt marshes are cut off from tidal flow by roads and undersized bridges. The state, watershed associations, and other organizations recognized the potential for restoration, and worked together in a dedicated but ad-hoc way to advance restoration as resources allowed. In 2009, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began building a statewide approach to process-based restoration. The approach began by dedicating a small number of staff, housed within the Department of Fish and Game, to seeking grant resources and coordinating river and coastal wetland restoration projects. Since that time, the fledgling Division of Ecological Restoration has grown into a solid agency, and cities, towns, and non-profit organizations across the state are pursuing river and wetland restoration using process-based techniques. In addition, agencies and partners are beginning to invest in restoration leadership at the regional/watershed scale. This presentation will describe how Massachusetts approaches river and wetland restoration, what has been accomplished so far, and the lessons we’ve learned as a restoration community, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

3:30PM – 4:00PM

Panel Discussion

The purpose of the panel discussion would be to provide the opportunity to ask experts more holistic questions about challenges to restoring stream systems on a meaningful scale.

4:00PM – 4:30PM (Post conference)

ISHWG Business Meeting

Proposed Instream Habitat Working Group (ISHWG) business meeting following the Panel Discussion.  This meeting will include a discussion of how ISHWG will communicate with interested persons in the future and present a plan for ISHWG activities for the next year.