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Michael J. Good is an ornithologist, biologist and naturalist. He is the founder of Acadia Birding Festival and president of Down East Nature Tours.
What does birdwatching have to do with food security and dams? A lot, I can tell you as a professional scientist, birdwatching, nature and ecology guide in Bar Harbor who has worked along the coast of Maine for three decades. I’ve brought hundreds of people with me to see how alewives, shad and American eel migrate through Down East rivers and streams. Cod, bluefish, lobsters, bald eagle, osprey, belted kingfisher, red-breasted, common and hooded merganser, coyote, red fox, mink, fisher, Atlantic puffin and northern gannet are just some of the magnificent and awe-inspiring wonders that depend on sea-run fish and ecologically healthy rivers and streams to nourish Gulf of Maine waters. But over these 30 years as a biologist, I’ve also seen the impacts of corporate greed and misguided policies that put the future of our wildlife, our economies, and food security at risk and I’m worried.
One of the vital keys to our current ecological crisis is to remove dams and re-open the riverine habitats of Maine’s once great rivers. We need to take a hard look at our rivers and the many old dams that remain in place and consider how we can rebuild our fishing economy, which is crucial to the long-term economic growth of Maine.
We’re hearing more about the dams owned by the mega-company Brookfield. Brookfield owns the Union River dam just above the head of tide in Ellsworth that’s been killing alewives and slicing up American eel in their turbines for 109 years. I believe this dam is killing Blue Hill Bay and must be removed if we are ever to have a healthy Blue Hill Bay.
The four Kennebec Rivers dams, also owned by Brookfield, may be contributing to the extinction of Maine’s Atlantic salmon. Brookfield is a huge company, based in Toronto, far from our coastal communities. Far from where the impacts of their decisions are felt. In the case of these dams, the decisions are to keep low-value, low-productivity dams. The amount of energy produced by these dams is not significant, clean, or responsible. It does not offset their harm and all rivers should be opened to free-flowing fish migration.
Alewife, Atlantic salmon and American shad depend on the Kennebec River and they must thrive exponentially to feed the ocean. To do that, we must open these dams and modernize them to account for the searun fisheries, which feed the oceans and create jobs.
The Wabanaki Nations have witnessed centuries of degradation of the Gulf of Maine and our rivers. The Penobscot Nation in particular have been critically involved with the removal of three dams on the Penobscot River, which has allowed fish to return to their Wabanaki homelands at the base of sacred Mount Katahdin. Coastal communities are already seeing bigger bait balls and thriving bird populations after just several years after the Penobscot River opening. What you do on the land matters to coastal Maine communities.
Coastal communities need wise ecological policies for future job development. Former Gov. Paul LePage and Brookfield want to make this election about jobs at the Sappi mill in Skowhegan, when we can have both jobs and ecological prosperity. LePage’s policies, especially on the environment, are dangerous and shortsighted. I believe his policies will destroy ecological health, when we should be removing useless out-of-date dams and modernizing the Shawmut and Union River dams.
Shouldn’t we, as a society, work together to find solutions that look at the health and productivity of the Kennebec and the Union rivers as a whole and connect them to the Gulf of Maine and the jobs produced with a healthy marine fishery? A change in administration at this juncture will devastate any opportunities to revamp Maine’s intercoastal marine fisheries.