Friday February 07, 2014 | 10:56 AM
Posted by Mike Tetreault

You may have seen a bit of good news/bad news about our coasts recently.

The bad news is that America’s coastal wetlands are in rough shape.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wetlands in coastal watersheds in the U.S. are disappearing at a rate of about 80,160 acres a year.

While we see coastal wetlands all the time as we go about our daily lives here in Maine, we don’t often appreciate their importance. Coastal wetlands comprise less than 10 percent of the nation’s land area, yet support many wildlife species, including 75 percent of migratory birds, nearly 80 percent of fish and shellfish, and about half of all our threatened and endangered species. They also improve water quality and help protect coastal communities from flood and storm surges.

Now the good news, as Portland Press Herald writer North Cairn recently wrote: With strong partnerships, like those we’re seeing here on Maine’s midcoast, we can protect our coastal wetlands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is awarding a $1 million grant to help conserve 86 acres of wetlands on Middle Bay in Harpswell and Brunswick. This is an area well worth the effort of protecting, considering its productive habitat for shellfish, wading and shore birds, eelgrass and many species. Additional funding for the project will come from the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program.

Wetlands intersect with Middle Bay on Brunswick-Topsharm Land Trust's Skolfield property. Photo courtesy of Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust

Funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service come from the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program and are derived from an excise tax paid from the sales of fishing equipment, motorboats and small engine fuels. The Nature Conservancy works with Congress to ensure these funds are in place each year so that grants can be given out across the country.

Making it possible to conserve these wetlands is the cooperation of local land trusts, including Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Together, they’ve formed the Middle Bay Wetlands Partnership to focus on protecting this important area. The Nature Conservancy and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, through Maine Wetland Protection Coalition, has worked with these and other partners to ensure that Maine puts together robust partnerships that support communities in their efforts to conserve these local – and national – assets.

The Middle Bay Wetlands Partnership is a great example of how strong collaborations with focused goals can help pool limited resources to protect our coastal wetlands.

Now that’s some good news we can all support.

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Mike Tetreault leads The Nature Conservancy in Maine, where he works with partners in conservation, government and community development to identify solutions which ensure that Maine's natural resources are available for people and for nature.

He holds a degree in environmental studies from Brown and a MS from the field naturalist program at the University of Vermont, and has studied resource management in Kenya, Mexico and throughout New England.

Tetreault started his career teaching wilderness leadership and environmental education, and has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 1998. He lives in Bath with his wife, their daughter and a menagerie of pets.


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