Audubon targets stream crossings that disrupt habitats

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FALMOUTH — Maine Audubon and its partners have launched a new educational website to build on existing training to improve road-stream crossings.

Barbara Charry, Maine Audubon wildlife biologist and manager of the Stream Smart training program, said her organization has been working since 2011 with their partners to educate town officials, road commissioners, contractors “and anyone involved with road stream crossing.”

Charry said many of the state’s stream culverts are old, installed 40 to 50 years ago, and have separated streams from their fish and wildlife. She said storms and water events are becoming larger and more frequent, and wash out the old crossings.

“We’ve been doing trainings and workshops and to date we’ve hosted well over 25 workshops and have had over 700 people across the state attend them,” Charry said.

The new educational website, which is free to the public, will provide a video training series with the goal of ultimately restoring habitat. It includes information for people to find what they need “to get a project off the ground,” including permitting, technical assistance and funding sources.

“The videos are intended to demonstrate different types of solutions. This is not a prescriptive program, there are lots of solutions,” Charry said.

She said the website comes after the public approved a $5.4 million bond last November for road-stream crossing replacements. She said replacing the crossings will be good for the state economy, by creating contracting and municipal jobs.

Charry said Maine Audubon and its partners have surveyed culverts and perennial streams over the last few years.

“Forty percent (of road-stream crossings) are barriers to wildlife and fish movement, and another 50 percent are likely barriers at some point over the year,” she said. “This issue goes well beyond our state boundaries, it’s the whole country that will have this issue.”

In particular, Charry said the wild native brook trout and Atlantic salmon are two species that can be greatly impacted by these barriers. She said both are fish that need cold water to breathe and spawn.

“When we fragment habitat, we end up isolating them from those needed resources. We can end up losing them from an area all together, we can end up with smaller populations and smaller fish,” she said.

Charry said Maine has a “national responsibility” for brook trout, since the state has the “most amount of cold water habitat intact and in good condition” on the East Coast.

She said in terms of wildlife other than fish, many animals move alongside or through streams. If there is a barrier, they may try to cross roads, which can be dangerous both for the animals and for drivers.

For some animals, like some kinds of turtles, if enough breeding adults are killed by cars each year, “the population can go extinct in 50 years,” she said.

Charry said the Audubon project won’t provide an overnight fix.

“This is an ongoing, long-term effort,” she said. “We took decades putting these crossings in, and it will probably take decades to replace them.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.