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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The National Fish Passage Program Helps Restore Streams, While Benefitting People and Local Economies

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and community partners across the nation worked together to remove or bypass 158 dams, culverts and other structures in 2011, opening more than 2,180 miles of streams to native fish populations. These efforts, coordinated through the National Fish Passage Program, have also contributed to improved water quality, provided additional recreational and economic opportunities, and even addressed serious threats to human health and safety. 

“The National Fish Passage Program serves as a vital catalyst for grass-roots community action that not only benefits native species and habitat, but also contributes to local economies and addresses aging and sometimes dangerous infrastructure,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Everyone wins when rivers and streams are allowed to flow freely again – that’s why this program is so popular and successful.”

Documenting these successful efforts, the Service released its 2011 Annual Report for the National Fish Passage program this week. The report, which can be viewed at http://www.fws.gov/fisheries/facilities/nfpp.html, provides dozens of stories and examples of projects completed in the past year that have provided tremendous benefits to fish, wildlife and local communities.

The National Fish Passage Program, administered by the Service, is a voluntary initiative active in all 50 states.  The non-regulatory program addresses barriers that limit fish movement vital for their survival. Fish passage is gained by removing dams, replacing poorly designed culverts, constructing low-water crossings, and installing fishways.  These projects are done in close cooperation with state and federal agencies, non-government organizations, universities and supporting individuals. Program staff identifies, prioritizes, funds, designs and reviews these conservation projects, while working closely with a wide variety of programs and partners to provide technical support to local communities.

Since the program’s creation in 1999, the Service and more than 700 project partners have removed 1,118 barriers to fish passage, reopening 17,683 stream miles to access by more than 90 native species of fish and freshwater mussels and reconnecting nearly 120,000 acres of wetlands to their historic water sources. In turn, these projects have contributed an estimated $9.7 billion to local economies and supported nearly 220,000 jobs.

From the earliest days of the American colonies, people have sought to harness streams and redirect them to provide valuable services such as irrigation, power production, drinking water, flood control and transportation. As a result, millions of culverts, dikes, water diversions, dams, and other artificial barriers have been constructed to impound and redirect water flowing through every river system and watershed in the nation. While many of these structures continue to serve a purpose, thousands of them are obsolete, abandoned or deteriorating.

An estimated 74,000 dams alone dot the American landscape, thousands of which are small dams built decades ago that no longer serve a purpose. These structures impede the passage of native fish and destroy spawning habitat, as well as degrading water quality by preventing stream flow that flushes sediment and pollutants out of river systems. They also reduce fishing and other river-based recreational and economic opportunities for people. And in some cases, aging dams threaten downstream communities should they fail, or otherwise endanger human life and safety by creating dangerous drowning conditions.

For example, the town of Front Royal, Virginia worked with National Fish Passage Program staff to remove an abandoned low head dam on the Shenandoah River that was the site of multiple drownings. This “drowning machine,” as it was called locally, was removed in October, 2011, enabling residents and visitors to enjoy fishing, canoeing and swimming on a safer river.

And in the Klamath Basin of Northern California, the Service worked with the Karuk Tribe, the Forest Service and local watershed and salmon restoration councils to restore fish passage on ten miles of the Klamath River. Completed in 2011, the project identified and addressed 48 barriers to fish passage in this stretch of the river. And by using tribal youth to do much of the work, it provided summer jobs to dozens of young men and women and introduced them to potential careers in fisheries science.

“As this project and many others like it demonstrate, the National Fish Passage Program is also an avenue for young adults to develop skills and confidence that will help them throughout life, whether they pursue a career in conservation or not,” said Director Ashe. “We are very grateful to the Service employees, partners and communities who have done so much to make the Program a monumental success for both people and wildlife.”

For more information on the National Fish Passage Program and its accomplishments, or for how to apply for funding and technical assistance, visit http://www.fws.gov/fisheries/facilities/nfpp.html.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring Turns 50!

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mid-Atlantic Region marked its annual Pollution Prevention Week by commemorating the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, at the newly renovated Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pa. 

Rachel Carson's 1962 book, which focused on what she saw as the widespread and detrimental use of pesticides, is credited as being the catalyst for the modern environmental movement and helping to lead to the creation of the EPA in 1970.

EPA's events in the Pittsburgh area centered on how one person can make a difference, Carson's pioneering work and its lasting change.

"With the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," average citizens grasped, maybe for the first time, how their choices could harm the environment in which they live," said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. ”Each of us is an engine of change in the choices we make, what we buy and how we live."

The event and tour of the Rachel Carson Homestead was followed by a pollution prevention lesson for approximately 150 9th and 10th grade students, and faculty involved in environmental science at nearby Springdale Jr./Sr. High School. Allegheny Valley School Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Griffith and Allegheny Valley School Board Chairman Larry Pollick introduced the EPA regional administrator to the assembly audience.

Garvin spoke of EPA's history and the conditions which led to the agency's creation before responding to questions from the students. 

While pollution can be a complex topic involving pesticides, power plant emissions and groundwater contamination, one of the easiest ways for individuals to make a difference is through recycling and Pollution Prevention Week is an annual opportunity to take stock and renew our efforts.

Recycling began about 25 years ago with just paper. It eventually expanded to include glass and plastic, then electronics. The next expansion is already underway with food recovery, which through donations to hunger-relief organizations and composting, diverts food waste from landfills where it can produce harmful gases that contribute to climate change.

The Rachel Carson Homestead on Marion Avenue in Springdale, Pa. has just completed a year-long renovation. The house is listed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Pittsburgh History and Landmarks. 

To learn more about your own community, go to www.epa.gov and click on MyEnvironment on the lower left side of the page. After entering your zip code, the site will provide a snapshot of your environment including air pollutants, and companies with permits to discharge waste water into rivers.

For more information about Rachel Carson and the Rachel Carson Homestead, go to: http://rachel_carson_homestead.myupsite.com/ 

For more information on pollution prevention, go to: www.epa.gov/p2.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

New York Finalizes River Herring Regulations

New York adopted the final changes to regulations that will reduce fishing mortality of river herring and create a sustainable fishery, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. River herring (alewife and blueback herring) are anadromous fish that spend most of their life in the ocean but return to their natal rivers to spawn.

"River herring are part of New York's native fauna and need to be more intensively managed to provide long-term, sustainable populations," said Commissioner Martens. "These unique fish are important to New York's waters and many New Yorkers enjoy their return to tidal waters each spring."

In the Hudson River, commercial and recreational anglers primarily use these fish as bait for striped bass, but some are taken for human consumption. Because information on the status of the river herring populations is available for the Hudson River and its tributaries and DEC can assess that status of these populations, a continuing fishery is allowed, though a reduced fishery. Since little data is available on stock status in other New York waters, implementing a moratorium on river herring fishing is required.

The adopted rule restricts the current fishery in the Hudson River, and all tributaries and embayments by:
  • Establishing a recreational open season and a daily creel limit.
  • Permitting angling only (e.g. no nets) in the tributaries and embayments.
  • Reducing the size of allowable nets in the Hudson River proper.
  • Requiring charter boats to register with the DEC to be eligible for a special boat creel limit.
The rules for commercial fishers include:
  • Increasing restrictions on net use and size.
  • Establishing a 36-hour no-fishing escapement period for all fishing gears.
  • Increasing monthly reporting requirements for their catches.
The list of waters where the harvest of river herring is prohibited are: the Delaware River and its tributaries, all streams in Bronx, Kings, Manhattan, Nassau, Richmond, Suffolk, and Queens counties, and Westchester County streams that are tributary to the East River or Long Island Sound.

The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a cooperative interstate fisheries management organization, of which New York State is a member, recently confirmed that coast- wide river herring stocks are depleted. The blockage of rivers by dams, habitat degradation and overfishing led to the depletion of the river herring stocks along the Atlantic coast.

In 2008, ASMFC adopted an amendment to the ASMFC Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Shad and River Herring requiring states to adopt measures that would reduce fishing mortality and allow the river herring stocks to rebuild. New York State promulgated these regulation changes to comply with the amendment and to protect the local river herring stocks.

For additional information about DEC Marine Resources- Hudson River Fisheries programs, visit DEC's website or contact DEC's Bureau of Marine Resources at 845-256-3071 or by email at r3hrf@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

Friday, September 07, 2012

US and Canada Sign Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

 Agreement will protect the health of the largest freshwater system in the world

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Canada’s Minister of the Environment Peter Kent today signed the newly amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement at a formal ceremony in Washington, D.C. First signed in 1972 and last amended in 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is a model of binational cooperation to protect the world’s largest surface freshwater system and the health of the surrounding communities.

“Protecting cherished water bodies like the Great Lakes is not only about environmental conservation. It’s also about protecting the health of the families—and the economies—of the local communities that depend on those water bodies for so much, every day,” said Administrator Jackson. “The amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement we signed today outlines the strong commitment the U.S. and Canada share to safeguard the largest freshwater system in the world. Our collaborative efforts stand to benefit millions of families on both sides of the border.”

“Joint stewardship of the Great Lakes—a treasured natural resource, a critical source of drinking water, essential to transportation, and the foundation for billions of dollars in trade, agriculture, recreation and other sectors—is a cornerstone of the Canada-United States relationship,” said Minister Kent. “The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports our shared responsibility to restore and protect this critical resource, and builds on 40 years of binational success.”

The revised agreement will facilitate United States and Canadian action on threats to Great Lakes water quality and includes strengthened measures to anticipate and prevent ecological harm. New provisions address aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation and the effects of climate change, and support continued work on existing threats to people’s health and the environment in the Great Lakes Basin such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals, and discharges from vessels.

The overall purpose of the Agreement is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters” of the Great Lakes and the portion of the St. Lawrence River that includes the Canada-United States border. Both governments sought extensive input from stakeholders before and throughout the negotiations to amend the Agreement. Additionally, the amended Agreement expands opportunities for public participation on Great Lakes issues.

The amended agreement sets out a shared vision for a healthy and prosperous Great Lakes region, in which the waters of the Great Lakes enhance the livelihoods of present and future generations of Americans and Canadians.

To view the text of the agreement:

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Eagle Lake Trout May Warrant Protection under the Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service) today announced that they will review the status of the Eagle Lake trout to determine whether listing under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) may be warranted. This announcement follows a finding that a petition, seeking to protect the fish under the ESA, and other information available at the time of the petition, presented substantial information to indicate that listing may be warranted.

In making this finding, the Service relied on the information presented by the petitioner and information in our files at the time we received the petition in 2003.  In the review of the status of the Eagle Lake trout, the Service will be looking at the best scientific and commercial available today and is asking the public for any scientific and commercial information regarding this species.

The Service will accept information from the public until November 5, 2012.  Comments can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov, (Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2012-0072) or by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2012-0072
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203

The Eagle Lake trout is a beautiful fish.  It is a subspecies of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and native only to Eagle Lake in Lassen County, California. Eagle Lake trout are known for their ability to withstand high alkalinity and the large size of mature fish. 

The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native wildlife.  This landmark conservation law has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species across the nation

Monday, September 03, 2012

Oiled wildlife discovered as pollution assessment teams survey Isaac’s damage

One dead juvenile pelican, 10 oiled dead nurtria and two live oiled pelicans were located in the marshes in the vicinity of Myrtle Grove, Sunday.

Wildlife Response Services is en route and will attempt to recover the live pelicans, collect the dead pelican and nutria, and look for any other impacted wildlife. Necropsies will be performed to determine the cause of death.

Teams located oil in the marshes in the vicinity of two inactive oil production facilities near Myrtle Grove, although there is no sign of an active leak, and it is still unclear if the oil originated from these facilities.

Coast Guard, EPA, and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality ground crews continue to monitor and assess the damage to waterways and oil, gas, and chemical facilities to determine the extent of any pollution impacts left in Hurricane Isaac’s wake.

Responders will collect oil samples from both the animals and the marsh and attempt to identify the source.

On the Lower Mississippi, Coast Guard waterways management teams are assessing and coordinating salvage plans for vessels that grounded along the riverbanks during the storm, to ensure strict safety standards are met before any attempt is made to refloat or move the vessels.

“We are in constant contact with vessel and facility owners and operators, as well as other waterway management organizations to make sure we learn as quickly as possible of any releases,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lushan Hannah, the Coast Guard incident commander for the response.  “Many of them have taken steps on their own to contain and clean up any pollution.”

Coast Guard and state officials are asking residents to avoid any contact with chemicals or pollution they come across, and to report it to the Sector New Orleans Operations Center at 504-365-2200 or the National Response Center at 800-424-8802.

“Our priorities are safeguarding public safety and protecting wildlife and the environment while we work to return the impacted areas to a normal state,” said Hannah.  “We are working with federal and state partners and the marine industry to make sure we locate as much of the pollution as possible and initiate cleanup operations.”