Molly Payne Wynne August 2020

Our People

Molly Payne Wynne

Freshwater Program Director, Maine

Maine

  • Areas of Expertise

    Conservation science, ecology, natural resource management, fisheries biology, project monitoring

Biography

Molly leads the Maine Freshwater Program which focuses on statewide restoration of connectivity between the Gulf of Maine and priority rivers, lakes, ponds, and headwater streams for the benefit of native sea-run and resident fish, freshwater and marine food webs, and local human communities. Molly manages implementation of fisheries and ecological monitoring of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, collection of road-stream crossing data, and a myriad of public outreach, education, and citizen science efforts including organizing and garnering support of World Fish Migration Day.

In addition to her work with the freshwater team, Molly co-leads staff learning in engaging and partnering with Indigenous Communities. “I am particularly interested in how our conservation and restoration actions can have lasting benefits for local people, especially indigenous communities. If we look to the intersections of scientific information, local knowledge, community values, that is where opportunities lie to make a valuable positive impact on Maines tremendous aquatic resources.”

Molly has experience in academia and working for other environmental non-profit organizations. Prior to working with the Conservancy, Molly worked for the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, a collaborative effort to restore sea-run fish to Maine’s largest river through dam-removal, improved fish passage, and rebalanced hydropower. She has pursued a variety of research topics in fisheries including river herring habitat use in Maine coastal rivers, marine fisheries ecology in Iceland, endangered humpback chub life histories in the Colorado River, and larval eel growth in the Sargasso Sea.

Molly received her Master of Science in Biology from the University of Southern Maine and Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York. Her deepest learning in life continues through raising her young daughter Clara, with her husband Ryan, and by spending time on or near the water as much as possible.

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More Information Helps Fish (and Fish Lovers Like Me)

October 28, 2020

Those who know me, know I love fish. If I had a tattoo, it would be of a fish. I'm fascinated by the many species in Maine that endure heroic journeys to complete the cycle of life. Wild brook trout, endangered Atlantic salmon, and ten other native species take part in an amazing annual migration from the ocean waters of the Gulf of Maine to freshwater rivers, streams and ponds to lay their eggs. Sadly, there are many obstacles in their path, and this hinders their ability to reproduce. 

As they make their impressive migrations up and down-stream, these fish are destined to encounter many of Maine’s 26,000 road-stream crossings, and almost 1,000 dams. We humans drive over these crossings every day without giving them a thought—but nearly half of all road-stream crossings in the state are currently barriers to fish passage. Often the problem is undersized culvert pipes which restrict water flow and prevent streams from functioning as nature intended. As a result, many of these problem crossings are also at risk of failure in a 25-year flood event, ultimately leaving people unable to pass, too.

Molly Payne Wynne wears a wetsuit and holds a small fish over a red collection bucket.
© ©Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography

What resulted is the nation’s–and quite possibly the world’s–most comprehensive inventory of road-stream crossings. But gathering information is just a start. How can we use it to make conservation decisions? That's where a new tool developed by TNC with funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service comes in.

The Maine Statewide Barrier Prioritization Tool (SBPT) is a web-based mapping tool that takes the survey data from the field along with other fisheries and habitat data, identifies which crossings act as barriers, and ultimately provides an assessment of the potential ecological benefit that could be realized by upgrading or removing them. The tool helps users understand the physical and ecological context of each barrier– which can be used in concert with other relevant data (such as economic factors or municipal support) to help decision makers identify the most ecologically beneficial projects.

A backhoe lowers a large metal arch onto cement foundations on each side of a small stream.
Improving Passage A fish-friendly open-bottom culvert is installed over a stream. © Robert Bukaty

This new tool was developed by my colleague Erik Martin and is an expansion of work for the Penobscot River and other TNC projects in the Northeast and Chesapeake Bay area. Importantly, Federal, State, Tribal, academic and restoration experts provided critical advice throughout development. Once again, it takes many partners working together to make a real difference!

To many of us working on river restoration, managing limited funds and staff, it is critical that we be more strategic about investing resources to have more focused impacts. When faced with over 12,000 problem crossings, this new tool gives us a great place to start.

I love fish and work every day to help them thrive in Maine. The addition of SBPT to our river restoration toolkit is another big step toward realizing that goal.

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