Session 6: Marshes for Maine’s Future

Please reach out to individual speakers if you are interested in viewing PowerPoint presentations from this session. Due to limited staffing, we are unable to post the presentations to the website.

Morning Session – 8:30AM-10:30AM
Washington/York Room, Second Floor

Session Co-Chairs
Chris Feurt, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and University of New England
Judy Colby-George, VIEWSHED

Salt marshes in Maine may not be as iconic as the rugged rocky coast, but their value as places that support fish and shellfish, and migrating and resident birds makes them one of the most productive of Maine’s coastal habitats. Coastal communities benefit from marshes’ ability to buffer storms and filter pollution from water. Salt marshes naturally capture and store carbon, reducing the impacts of fossil fuel emissions. Sustainability of salt marshes is threatened by sea level rise, development, and erosion. Government, non-profit and research organizations are working to turn the tide on marsh loss in Maine. These organizations are working to restore hydrology, conserve pathways for marsh migration, protect critical habitat and build marsh resilience for ecosystem service provision. This session will showcase the diversity of approaches being used to ensure Marshes for Maine’s Future.

Session Schedule


Marshes for Maine’s Future: Collaborative Science to Support Marsh Conservation and Management Decisions in Maine – A Knowledge to Action Model for Applying Geospatial Science

Chris Feurt
Director Coastal Training Program Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve; Research Associate School of Marine and Environmental Programs UNE

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) project, “Science to Support Marsh Conservation and Management Decisions in the Northeastern United States” provides a scientific framework for supporting  decision-makers who actively research and manage the climate-induced changes in coastal resilience and vulnerability. This project provides two USGS geospatial products that link landscape integrity with coastal hazards to sustain salt marshes and the ecosystem services they provide. The first product, the unvegetated-vegetated ratio (UVVR); and associated sediment-based marsh lifespan has proven useful for evaluating marsh condition and restoration feasibility in salt marsh systems across the U.S. Second, the Coastal Change Likelihood product merges all coastal land classes with storm and sea level rise (SLR) hazards to estimate the likelihood of geomorphic change over near-term timescales. This project aims to deliver both products and transfer these metrics to key end-users to inform coastal planning efforts for salt marsh sustainability in Maine. In response to needs identified by marsh conservation leaders in Maine, this project will transfer and apply the USGS data products produced for Maine to current efforts to prioritize locations for marsh conservation, identify sites for migration pathways and evaluate restoration strategies. Alignment of this project with Maine’s climate action plan goals Maine Won’t Wait, Maine’s tidal crossing project Coastwise, and priorities developed through the stakeholder driven Climate Ready Coast – Southern Maine project further enhance and amplify the impact of the scientific transfer by addressing unmet needs for science to support strategies that build marsh resilience. The Collaborative Learning based model for geospatial science transfer will be shared during this presentation.


Marshes for Tomorrow: Private Land Efforts to Conserve Maine Tidal Marshes

Jeremy Gabrielson
Senior Conservation and Community Planner, Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s (MCHT) “Marshes for Tomorrow” Initiative is a multi-year effort to conserve resilient tidal marshes in Maine. Two key conservation strategies include land protection and tidal marsh restoration. In 2016, MCHT launched a strategic land protection effort focused on conservation of undeveloped migration space as a strategy to allow tidal marshes to move landward as a response to sea-level rise. This work builds on Maine Natural Areas Program’s 2015 statewide assessment of marsh migration potential in Maine. Since then, MCHT and our partners have completed 39 projects that protect over 2,000 acres of tidal marsh, migration space, and associated upland buffers. More recently, MCHT has started to address hydrological impairments on conserved tidal marshes using an approach developed by Susan Adamowicz, Geoff Wilson, and David Burdick. MCHT currently has five tidal marsh restoration projects under development. This first phase of work focuses on tidal marshes owned by MCHT. Jeremy will present on how MCHT has used existing assessments to guide our marsh conservation work, and how “Marshes for Maine’s Future” will guide our prioritization moving forward.


Marsh Restoration and Community Resiliency Along the Washington County Coast

Rick Harter (1), Charlie Foster (1), Jacob van de Sande (2), Michael Burke (3), Marcel Young-Scaggs (3)

  1. Downeast Salmon Federation
  2. Maine Coast Heritage Trust
  3. Inter-Fluve 

Subjected to the largest tide ranges in Maine, marshes along the Washington County coast share histories of impact that are common in Maine. In particular, historical agricultural practices and transportation infrastructure have resulted in key impacts, changing the inherent biophysical functions of the marshes and reducing or eliminating tidal exchange essential for marsh viability. Yet Washington County marshes have the potential to provide essential habitat for wildlife and fish, and to bolster climate resiliency for the region. At the same time, improved climate-resilient infrastructure is essential to the viability of Downeast communities, including safe access to the working waterfront and essential services alike. Downeast Salmon Federation and Maine Coast Heritage Trust along with diverse partners are leading an initiative to restore Washington County tidal marshes while also facilitating improvements to result in climate resilient tidal road crossings along several areas of the Coast, including at the West Branch Pleasant River in Addison and the Schoppee Marsh in Machias. These projects represent the broad range of conditions and complexities encountered in evaluating and planning restoration along the Maine coast. This presentation will provide an overview of the systems and their characteristics, and the current status of planning efforts.


Understanding the History of Farming in New England Marshes to Restore Marshes for the Future

Ruth Indrick (1), Susan Adamowicz (2), David Burdick (3), Geoffrey Wilson (4)

  1. Kennebec Estuary Land Trust
  2. Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, USFWS
  3. Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, University of New Hampshire
  4. Northeast Wetland Restoration LLC

The agriculture that happened in marshes across Maine in the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s is causing problems for marshes today, particularly as climate change changes our region’s precipitation regime and increases sea levels. Marshes were modified to increase agricultural productivity with networks of ditches, berms (embankments), and water control structures. Evidence of these agricultural modifications can often be seen today as sinking of the marsh surface – through exposure to too much oxygen that speeds up the decay of the peat or through flooding that kills off plants and prevents the marsh from building new peat. These impacts threaten a marsh’s ability to provide vital services, like carbon storage, nutrients for the food chain, and nursery habitat for commercial and threatened fish species.  

A group called the SMARTeam (Salt Marsh Adaptation and Resiliency Team) has tested and developed methods that increase the resilience of a marsh through remediation of old agricultural structures. The restoration work focuses on identifying the agricultural modifications that are causing problems and restoring a functional hydrology that enables a marsh to more effectively respond to changes. The first step of this work includes mapping the historic network of structures that were present in a marsh. The restoration designs use ditch remediation and runneling to remediate areas that are over-drained or under-drained and reestablish a single-channel hydrology. The design considerations also incorporate measures that address the needs of sensitive marsh species and allow for adaptive management. SMARTeam trainings and restoration projects are getting underway across New England.


CoastWise Approach for Tidal Crossing Design – Performance Criteria for Ecological Resilience

Matt Shultz (1), Michael Burke (2), Jacob Aman (3), Kathleen Leyden (4)

  1. Woods Hole Group
  2. Inter-fluve
  3. Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
  4. Maine Coastal Program

The CoastWise Approach provides a set of best practices for building safe, resilient and ecologically supportive road crossings in the tidal environment. In support of this new guidance the CoastWise Steering Committee sponsored an analysis to evaluate performance criteria for tidal road crossings, identify preferred metrics, and provide recommendations. The intent is to provide streamlined guidance for road crossing sizing to support upstream wetland function and resilience. We analyzed eleven (11) selected tidal road crossing project sites located in Maine utilizing new/updated hydraulic modeling performed using various model types (0-D, 1-D, and 2-D).

We assessed the applicability of hydraulic head differential (HHD) and the timing of peak high tides (phase lag) as potential performance metrics for tidal crossing structures. We then validated the effectiveness and appropriate target criteria for these performance metrics in order to provide unrestricted tides to the upstream tidal basin, ensuring ecological resilience (for present-day and future design tides with sea level rise).  

Primary study conclusions included that 1) a combination of criteria be evaluated when sizing a crossing structure (both HHD- and phase-based), 2) a set of performance criteria can be met for most sites, however, the criteria may need adjustment based on the project objectives, limitations, or feasibility, 3) the hydraulic model type used  can affect the ability to meet performance criteria; the selected model should be able to represent the complexity of the marsh/tidal crossing system, 4) correlations were found between certain site characteristics and the structure spans selected using different metrics/performance criteria.


Panel Discussion

About the session chairs

Christine Feurt is the Director of the Coastal Training Program at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and a Research Associate in the School of Marine and Environmental Programs at the University of New England. Dr. Feurt collaborates with communities and organizations working to sustain coastal ecosystems. Chris uses the Collaborative Learning approach to integrate local knowledge and expertise with natural and social science to build resilient coastal communities where the things people value are conserved for future generations.

Judy Colby-George, GISP, is the owner of VIEWSHED, a multidisciplinary firm working in Landscape Architecture, GIS, and Planning.  She has worked with municipal governments, regional planning agencies, and state governments in New England for over 25 years.  Judy has extensive experience with public participation GIS and working with clients to implement geospatial tools.  She believes that geospatial tools can help to engage the public in the messy problems that face our world today. VIEWSHED works with clients to tell their stories, represent data in an understandable format, and invite people into the decision-making process.