In 2007, the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture  identified northern New England, specifically the northern half of Maine, New Hampshire's White Mountains, and Vermont's Green Mountains and Northeast Kingdom, as the last stronghold for wild brook trout populations in lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. Maine in particular has been identified as “the last true stronghold” for native brook trout, with more intact populations than the rest of the species' native U.S. range combined. Maine's native lake and pond populations of brook trout comprises more than 96 percent of “intact” native brook trout lake and pond watersheds that remain in the United States. The Joint Venture assessment listed agriculture, historical forestry practices, dams and the introduction of competing non-native fish species as the primary threats to brook trout in this region.
Atlantic salmon, native to the coastal rivers of Maine and New Hampshire, the Connecticut River, and a number of inland lake and river systems in their “landlocked” form, have declined significantly from historic populations. Populations in the Eastern United States, in fact, are at an all-time low and the species is listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Like brook trout, Atlantic salmon are coldwater fish that demand pristine water quality and high quality aquatic habitat. And like brook trout, Atlantic salmon define the fishing heritage of northern New England and are highly prized as a gamefish. Threats from human development such as thermal pollution, siltation, road-building and agricultural practices, from fragmentation of aquatic habitat from dams and culverts, and from the introduction of non-native fish endanger the long-term survival of Atlantic salmon.
While TU does not currently have land protection staff based in New England, on a case-by-case basis, the organization is bringing scientific expertise, fund-raising capacity and an on-the-ground network of sportsmen and women together with land trusts to conserve northern New England's native coldwater fisheries, and the high quality watersheds that support them.
Why now? Northern New England is undergoing a tremendous shift as timber companies unload massive tracts of land to real estate investors. This transfer of company land to private ownership has threatened traditional public access to these vast forestlands for recreation. There now exists a tremendous opportunity to strategically protect unfragmented forests and important lake, pond, river and stream habitat for trout and salmon. Along with protecting the region's important coldwater resources and water quality, these efforts will secure public access and benefit the region's increasingly important recreational economy.
Success in northern New England:
Example of TU's scientific expertise benefiting a major river corridor protection protect
In 2005, the owner of a 2100 acre tract near the headwaters of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire approached the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests with an offer to sell. His alternative plan, should the land trust not be able to pursue the purchase, was to sell to a developer for upscale recreational homes.
In a two year campaign, the Forest Society developed a collaborative partnership with TU, and the NH Fish and Game Department that raised $2.8 million dollars to purchase the property and establish a stewardship fund. TU's interest was in protecting the six miles of river frontage, retaining public angling access and identifying opportunities on the land for stream habitat enhancement for Eastern brook trout.
TU contributed to the project in two important ways: First, TU staff completed a thorough analysis of the property using the Conservation Success Index, identifying the current habitat condition, threats to the habitat integrity and the benefits from securing the land's permanent protection from development. The report prepared by TU was instrumental in successfully securing a $500,000 grant from Acres for America, granted through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Second, the Forest Society and TU also mailed a campaign fundraising letter to all TU members in the five New England states. That letter, combined with donations from all seven of the New Hampshire chapters of TU, resulted in more than $30,000 in additional contributions to the project.
Now that the land is protected and under the ownership of the Forest Society, TU staff are helping analyze the condition of small headwaters streams on the property and looking into projects to enhance angler access to the river.