Grants awarded to support climate change adaptation, ecological restoration projects and habitat management

In a recent press release, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) has awarded $4 million in grants through two grant programs that will strengthen community preparedness for large storms, improve climate-ready infrastructure, protect fisheries, wildlife, and river habitats, and restore floodplain habitat and flood storage capabilities. DER awarded $2.75 million to 26 municipalities through the Culvert Replacement Municipal Assistance Grants Program, supporting culvert replacement projects that improve river health and municipal roads in communities across the Commonwealth.

The Administration also announced the award of $1.25 million in state and federal grant funds to supports six DER Priority Ecological Restoration Projects that help local partners remove aging dams, rejuvenate historic wetlands, and restore floodplain habitat and flood storage. The announcement was made by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton.

According to the news release, nearly half of Massachusetts’ estimated 25,000-plus small bridges and culverts act as barriers to fish and wildlife because they are undersized or poorly positioned. Undersized culverts can also present a serious risk to public safety. As high intensity rainfall becomes more frequent and severe due to climate change, culvert bottlenecks can cause flood waters to overtop roads, resulting in washouts, road closures, and impacts to other important infrastructure. Installing culverts that meet the Massachusetts Stream Crossing Standards allows rivers to flow unrestricted and with lower risk of flood damage. Recent studies have found that culverts designed to meet these standards are often less expensive than in-kind culvert replacements over the lifespan of the structure.

Of the 26 municipalities, the following nearby projects were awarded grants through the Culvert Replacement Municipal Assistance Grant Program:

Becket — $75,165: The Town of Becket will conduct final engineering and permitting for a culvert replacement located on Center Pond Brook. Upgrading this perched and undersized culvert will enhance public safety and resiliency and restore wildlife connectivity.

Cummington — $88,282: The Town of Cummington will complete final engineering and permitting tasks for the culvert replacement on the North Branch of the Swift River. Upgrading the culvert will enhance public safety, resiliency, and ecological conditions and maintain economic connectivity. The North Branch of the Swift River is a tributary to the Wild & Scenic Westfield River, a coldwater stream that provides critical habitat for fish.

Middlefield — $70,000: The Town of Middlefield will conduct field data collection, analysis and design, and engineering for a culvert replacement on Glendale Brook. The upper reaches of Glendale Brook are some of the most pristine coldwater fisheries in the Commonwealth. Upgrading this culvert will allow coldwater species to access critical coldwater streams, which is particularly important as the climate warms and stream temperatures increase.

Windsor — $150,000: The Town of Windsor will replace an undersized and deteriorated culvert on a tributary to the East Branch of the Westfield River, which provides some of the best coldwater fish communities in the Commonwealth. This project is part of a larger River Road paving project which includes the replacement of multiple culverts along the road. Upgrading this culvert will increase public safety, storm resiliency, and ecological benefits.

The Priority Projects Program is one of the vehicles by which DER pursues restoration projects that present the greatest benefit to the Commonwealth ecologically, socially, and economically. The six newly funded Priority Projects include wetland restoration, dam removal, and cranberry bog restoration projects which restore healthy habitat while also helping communities prevent storm damage, address aging infrastructure, and improve outdoor recreation. Once completed, these Priority Projects will provide significant social, environmental and economic benefits to the Commonwealth and local communities. There are currently 47 active ecological restoration projects throughout the state designated as Priority Projects. To review a full list of projects, visit the Department of Fish & Game’s DER Priority Projects Map webpage.

The six recent projects were awarded funds through DER’s Priority Projects Program via a combination of DER’s Capital Budget and federal grant funds. The projects are mainly on the Cape or eastern part of the state.

Grant funding available to landowners for habitat management

While we are on the subject of grants, please know that private and municipal landowners of conserved lands can apply to MassWildlife for grant funding to support active habitat management projects that benefit wildlife and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities.

If you would like to improve habitat for birds or other wildlife on your property but don’t have the money to get it done, these grants may be for you. You can now apply for a Mass Wildlife Habitat Management Grant (MHMGP). This grant provides financial assistance to private and municipal landowners of conserved lands to enhance wildlife habitat, while promoting public access for outdoor recreation. Over the past six years, the MHMGP has awarded over $2.2 million in funding to 33 different organizations and individuals for 84 habitat improvement projects. Details on how to apply and examples of successful projects are posted on the MassWildlife’s Habitat Management Grant Program page. The grant application deadline is Aug. 27.

The MHMGP encourages landowners to engage in active habitat management on their properties to benefit many types of wildlife, including game animals and species of greatest conservation need as identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan. Although MassWildlife and other conservation organizations have made unprecedented investments in land acquisition in Massachusetts, acquisition alone is not enough to guarantee the persistence of biological diversity.

Investment in habitat restoration and management is urgently needed on public and private lands across the state. To address this need, MassWildlife and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs have substantially increased their investment in habitat management on state wildlife lands and are committed to working with partners to promote these efforts on other conserved lands across the state.

If your project site is located within endangered species habitat, a pre-review of the project is highly encouraged. E-mail Emily Holt, Senior Endangered Species Review Biologist of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP), with a site map and description of the project to begin the pre-review process. Retain copies of the feedback provided, as proof of consultation will be needed during the MHMGP application process. Pre-reviews should be submitted to NHESP a minimum of two weeks before the MHMGP application closing date.

For general questions about the grant program, contact James Burnham, Program Coordinator.

Where’s Raymour?

Still no word about the whereabouts of Raymour. Readers may recall that he was the mallard duck that had his bill and tongue severely damaged and who Ron Smith, who lives on the shores of Onota Lake, had been hand feeding for a couple of years. It was later determined that Carl Dufur of West Housatonic Street, Pittsfield had also been feeding him. Raymour has been missing for three weeks now. “I miss that ole duck”, said Ron, “he used to visit me twice a day.”

One reader who describes himself as a “big-city guy with a Housatonic second home” was moved by the story about Raymour and pledged $100, if necessary to help in any way possible thru veterinary intervention.

A clue to Raymour’s whereabouts may have come to light last week when Ron hosted the ROMEOS (retired old men eating out) at his place on Onota Lake. After dining and touring the lake on his pontoon boat, where we saw an eagle’s nest with an immature eagle watching us, we sat a while on his lawn to take in the beautiful view of the lake and surrounding mountains, including Mount Greylock. It was there that Ron mentioned that recently a bald eagle swooped down out of the sky and nailed a cottontail rabbit right on his lawn — the same lawn that Raymour used to trudge up to be fed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that that eagle snatched Raymour and flew off with him. Hope I’m wrong.

If the eagle indeed did get Raymour, I guess we can say that he gave his last full measure to our nation, at least to our national emblem.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@gmail.com or 413-637-1818.

Gene Chague is a longtime sportsman and editor of The Eagle's Berkshire Woods and Waters outdoors column.