Determination Pays Off Big for Salmon

A new permit process may make fish passage projects faster, cheaper and more effective.

A couple of years ago, Jeremy Bell was working on a project to replace a typical culvert that was inadequately sized and placed, acting as a barrier to endangered Atlantic salmon trying to gain access to critical spawning habitat. Projects like this require special permits from multiple state and federal agencies, particularly when the stream has known habitat for salmon.

Jeremy, who is the Conservancy’s river and coastal restoration director and knows a thing or two about salmon habitat, identified this permitting process as a major barrier to our goal of changing the way Maine approaches culvert replacements. It takes so much time and involves so many requirements that town managers and municipal leaders have very little incentive to spend the time and expense to repair road-stream crossings in a way that helps salmon and minimizes future flooding issues. It turns out that quite often old undersized culvert pipes are replaced with equally undersized new culvert pipes without the special permits required for more substantial improvements!

Over the past two years, Jeremy and Ben Matthews, our watershed restoration specialist, have been working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to streamline the permit process so that improvements to fish passage on salmon waters is easier and more consistent. This past September, USFWS finally announced a new process that includes pre-approved structure designs and environmental conditions so these projects can be done faster, cheaper and more effectively.

“It’s good to see our partners adapt when regulations intended to help fish and wildlife really are not,” says Jeremy. “This clears the way to getting more of this important work done, and done right.”

Thanks to Jeremy’s determination and the support of our members, the table is set for more habitat restoration than ever before!