Sneak Preview of an Endangered River Success: The Penobscot

The release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2010 edition is less than a week away. A couple days ago I gave you a sneak peek of one of our endangered rivers success stories, the Elwha. Today I want to share another one.

Maine’s Penobscot River, New England’s second largest river, used to teem with Atlantic salmon. The Penobscot Indian Nation has relied on the river and its salmon runs since time immemorial, and the river’s story is woven tightly into the region’s culture and heritage.

In 1786, fresh salmon sold for two pence per pound at Col. Robert Treat’s store at Penjajawoc Falls, future site of Bangor Dam.  In 1880, the first Penobscot salmon caught on a fly rod was hooked at the mouth of Wassataquoik Stream. In 1884 the Penobscot Salmon Club, the nation’s first salmon club, was formed.

But dams and other impacts have diminished salmon runs to a mere fraction of their historic abundance. The last big run of Penobscot salmon was in 1934 and the commercial fishery closed in 1947.

We named the Penobscot as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ every year from 1989 to 1996 because of existing or proposed dams. The Penobscot has appeared on the list more than any other river.

But today, the Penobscot is on the path to recovery. American Rivers helped block the construction of new dams and we also helped spur a landmark agreement to remove two dams and improve operations on a third. This river restoration project will bring more than 1,000 miles of river back to life – making it one of the most significant dam removal efforts in history. We played an instrumental role in securing $10 million in federal funding for these dam removals, which will begin in the next couple years.

We are proud to be a founding member of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, that is working hard to revitalize the Penobscot, fish and wildlife, and the river’s communities.

When it comes to endangered river success stories, it’s hard to beat the Penobscot.