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Nature's Top Comebacks in Maine

By Misty Edgecomb

Decades ago, few would have predicted that bald eagles and osprey would be a common sight over the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers in the 21st Century. But as The Nature Conservancy celebrates its 60th anniversary this fall, raptors are among the great success stories of modern conservation.

Here in Maine, our once-industrial rivers again support spring fish runs and summer paddlers. Our forests have rebounded to cover an acreage that hasn’t been seen in generations, from the coastal pines to the North Woods. And forest species like beaver and wild turkey and have rebounded in response to reduced trapping pressure while wild turkey reintroductions have successes beyond anyone’s imagination.

“These comeback stories are really inspiring,” said Mike Tetreault, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “It’s amazing how resilient nature can be, with a little help from conservationists.”

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5. Georges Bank haddock: Long a traditional species for New England fishermen, haddock are among the Northwest Atlantic’s great comeback stories. Driven to near collapse in the early-1990s, the spawning population of haddock has seen a ten-fold increase in the past two decades, thanks in large part to conservation measures adopted by regional managers and fishermen. The recovery of the haddock population has directly benefited U.S. and Canadian fishermen, with landings increasing from about 2,400 metric tons in 1995 to over 21,000 metric tons in 2005. Stewardship of the haddock resource through sustainable fishing practices will help ensure a robust population and continued economic opportunities in the future.

4. Wild turkey: This native forest bird had disappeared from Maine by the 1800s, but since reintroductions and habitat improvements began in 1942, the statewide population has grown to 50,000 to 60,000, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

3. Alewife: This spring more than a million river herring migrated up the Kennebec River, more than a decade following the removal of the Edwards Dam. Decades of water quality improvements set the stage, and efforts to restore fish passage. Now, conservationists are anticipating a similar recovery following the completion of the Penobscot River Restoration Project in the coming years.

2. Forests: Maine is more forested today than it was a century ago, and nearly as forested as it was in the 17th Century. Nearly 90 percent of Maine’s land is now forested.. New England’s forests are quite young, on average, and the recent State of Nature report reveals that they’re bisected by hundreds of miles of roads, but they’ve made a remarkable recovery. And with working forest easements and other incentives and proactive steps to keep these forests, they can meet the needs of people and wildlife for centuries more.

1. Bald eagles: A common sight in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area, Acadia National Park, Kennebec Estuary, Cobscook Bay and even in some of Maine’s biggest cities, bald eagles, osprey and peregrine falcons made an amazing comeback after DDT, a pesticide that caused their eggs to develop thin shells, was banned in 1972. More than 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles now live in Maine, according to state biologists, up from perhaps 30 in the early 1960s.

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