Poorly designed culverts are blocking the natural movement of brook trout and other aquatic wildlife on thousands of streams across Maine. Restoring free access to habitat is essential to protecting populations of wild brook trout. Maine has more than 80% of the remaining U.S. native stocks of brook trout, so local efforts are significant nationally. A project just completed by Downeast Lakes Land Trust and partners, with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has potential to be a model for cost-effective restoration of aquatic habitat.
A concrete arch built by Dirigo Timberlands in North Anson was installed on Billy Brown Brook, a small tributary to Grand Lake Stream with a history of providing cold-water summer habitat for brook trout. The road crossing is located on property owned by the Lyme Timber Company, and was at risk for washing out during high stream flow events. The road provides the only vehicle access between the village of Grand Lake Stream and the trust’s Farm Cove Community Forest, along with state conservation lands along the Machias River extending down to Route 9.
“This new concrete arch structure holds great promise to provide economic savings and long-term benefits over traditional corrugated metal crossing structures,” said Scott Craig, Project Leader at the Maine Fishery Resource Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The open arch design has proven to be the best choice to restore ecological stream processes that will greatly benefit our headwater brook trout populations.”
Blaine Miller, co-owner of Dirigo Timberlands in North Anson, said, “We’re excited about the opportunity to grow our business by manufacturing arch culvert and bridge products here in Maine. They will help forest landowners restore trout habitat while maintaining roads.”
“These concrete arches could be a game-changer for private commercial forest owners that want to do the right thing for trout habitat on brook trout headwater streams,” said Steven Koenig, Executive Director of Project SHARE, a cooperative salmon habitat restoration group, “I was happy to help Downeast Lakes Land Trust to test this new approach”.
Downeast Lakes Land Trust, based in Grand Lake Stream, manages almost 34,000 acres as a Community Forest, with priorities of wildlife habitat, public recreation, and a sustainable timber economy. The Community Forest includes a network of private roads maintained by the trust to provide access for public recreation and forest management. These roads cross a number of brooks and streams that provide habitat for native brook trout along with other species of fish and wildlife. In many cases, the culverts installed when the roads were built decades ago were not designed to allow the natural movement of fish and other wildlife. Most culverts were too small or not properly placed to provide fish passage and risked failure during high stream flow. As a result, they have contributed to fragmentation of trout habitat.
Downeast Lakes Land Trust is working to replace these older culverts with bridges or bottomless arches that provide a natural stream channel. Over the last six years, the trust has completed restoration projects at 20 road stream crossings with a variety of partners, including local contractors, neighboring landowners, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, state and federal agencies, and the cooperative salmon habitat restoration group Project SHARE.
Road maintenance and habitat restoration projects also bring important economic benefits to rural Maine. Construction work provides immediate employment, while intact roads support the recreation and timber economy. Healthy functioning streams are essential to the fisheries and recreation experiences enjoyed by local residents and visitors who help sustain the regional economy.
“Stream restoration construction work, such as installing arch culverts, has become one of our specialties. It is important business for us in the summer,” said Donnie Hanscom, owner of Hanscom’s Construction in Machias. “We found the concrete arch from Dirigo Timberlands to be efficient to install.”
Given the huge numbers of road stream crossings across the state, finding cost-effective ways to maintain roads while restoring habitat is essential. This site will be featured by Maine Audubon in a training video on Stream Smart road crossing construction for road professionals. Stream Smart road crossings foster greater habitat connections for fish and wildlife while improving roads for public safety by preparing for the large and frequent storms which have been washing out roads around the northeast. The video is anticipated to be completed by January 2014.
UPDATE: Video and Article from the Bangor Daily News Sept. 22, 2013 (video courtesy of Maine Audubon)