Penobscot River Watershed a Conservation Priority

U.S. Government Declares Penobscot River Watershed a Conservation Priority  The Free Press 5/4/14

The Penobscot River watershed is one of two sites along the east coast to be selected by the federal government for Habitat Blueprint, a national program administered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that focuses on protecting and restoring important habitat. The other site is the Choptank River in Maryland and Delaware.

Designated this week as a Habitat Focus Area, the Penobscot River watershed will now join a handful of other rivers at the top of the national list for habitat conservation and restoration.

As New England’s second largest river, the Penobscot provides habitat for three endangered fish species – Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, and the largest population of spawning Atlantic salmon in the United States. It is also the center of the Penobscot tribe,

which was also a factor in choosing the river drainage, since social and economic impacts are considered when selecting priority habitats. The Penobscot tribe still occupies part of their ancestral homeland on Indian Island, which is surrounded by the river.

The river largely runs through forested areas, but dam and culvert construction, water pollution, and overfishing have degraded the watershed, leading to a loss of bottom-dwelling life and an increase in algae. Many of the 11 sea-run fish species that use the river are no longer abundant and the resiliency of the river to recover from extreme weather and flooding is much lower than it should be, according to NOAA.

Birds and mammals and important commercial species like cod have lost key food sources as alewives and blueback herring numbers declined. This also has affected tribal subsistence fishing and the historically large recreational fishery for Atlantic salmon.

NOAA selected the Penobscot River watershed as a Habitat Focus Area in part because federal, state, and local organizations are already collaborating to protect and restore habitat and study fish populations. As a result, there is abundant monitoring data (pre- and post-dam removal) to help in planning future work.

NOAA’s direct investments in the area include large-scale projects like the removal of the Veazie and Great Works dams.

NOAA’s first Habitat Focus Area was California’s Rus-sian River watershed, with measurable success. Tributaries are now reopened for coho salmon to reach breeding grounds, as measured by underwater antennas that have been installed to track them.

The next step for NOAA is to develop implementation plans for the Penobscot and Choptank watersheds.

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