Maine is a wild and beautiful place. Lifer or transplant, this is why we are here. This wildness is embodied by Katahdin, Moosehead Lake and the rocky shores of the coast, but too often we forget the lifeline that connects these landscapes: the Penobscot River.
Historically the Penobscot has been one of the most productive fisheries in the Northeast, yet in the last 75 years, we’ve seen a continuous decline in wildlife, starting with fish and moving up the food chain. Recently we’ve made significant strides to reverse this trend.
This spring brought with it our first glimpse of improvement on the Penobscot. We saw approximately 1.5 million alewives return to the river, compared to approximately 589,000 the year before. This near 200 percent increase is a boon to our ecosystem (its also great for our lobstermen, especially with this year’s bait shortage). Since alewives are a keystone species their return bolsters the species that depend on them as a food source. Over the July Fourth weekend I saw — for the first time in my life — a bald eagle flying over the Penobscot Bay: a good omen for the future.
The recent increase in wildlife along our river is directly correlated to the Penobscot River Restoration Project. During the summers of 2012 and 2013, two main stem dams were removed from the river, allowing fish to freely migrate up to the Milford dam for the first time in over 100 years. While these results are a phenomenal start, we can and should do more.
We need to look at every obstruction of our rivers (including dams and culverts) and ask ourselves if they make sense, not only economically, but also biologically. We worry about losing the local swimming hole behind the dam because change is scary. But if we step back and look not just in our backyards, but at Maine as a whole, we’ll realize that this change is good, that Maine is our backyard. As we’ve seen with each dam removal, when we sacrifice a little for Mother Nature, she comes roaring back. With enough time, the Penobscot will become a landmark of its own, enriching the beauty of Maine and the wild lands we love.