15 May 2014
Lessons from the Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Designation
When Anthony Irving came to our class to speak of the Eightmile River, I really had no idea that we had such a unique and precious land right here in our backyard. Anthony was speaking as the Chairman of the Scenic Coordinating Committee, and past President of the Lyme Land Trust. He has a Bachelors degree in Literature, has been publishing for 12 years, and also has a Masters in Environmental Studies. If anyone knew the importance of this land, it was Anthony because he had been fighting to get this land protected for many years.
So what’s so special about Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Designation? The main reason is that the area is so special is that it has a pristine watershed that is virtually untouched by human development. The entire area is 8 square miles, with a population of only 87 people per square mile, with only about 6% of the land being developed. A large reason why this area never got too populated is that transportation was blocked from the river mouth, with sand and sediments being continuously be deposited over time. Historically, commerce has gathered around river mouths because ships could come in and out freely, and they were ports to areas further inland; but not Eightmile. Currently, 36% of the land is protected from development, and the community who lives in and around the watershed is active in protecting the watershed as a whole. Another thing that makes this watershed so unique is that 2.5 miles of this watershed is freshwater tidal; this means that as the ocean tide rises, it backs up the tide within the watershed, rather than flushing it out with salt water. This type of watershed is extremely rare, especially for the East Coast of the U.S. The area is home to many rare species, being a habitat to organisms that live in freshwater and spawn in saltwater, and those that live in saltwater and spawn in freshwater. Because of this uniqueness, it is recognized internationally as one of the 40 greatest last untouched places in the Western Hemisphere.
Despite being such an exclusive area, it was not always known as such. The locals always knew they had something special, but until the 90’s the area wasn’t really recognized by the larger community. During this time, a cooperative collection of the local community and outside experts took place in which the area was researched to find out the extent of the diverseness of the watershed. This study took 5 years, and is known as The 90’s Project. The study looked at the different types of growth on the land, the overall land fragmentation, stormwater runoff, impervious surfaces and any withdrawal of water from the area. The study found that the only withdrawal was from a local golf course, which did not have any great affect on the watershed. The study also mapped out all of the land parcels, and any potential influences by man that would have an impact on the watershed. During this time, it was quickly realized how diverse an ecosystem really existed here, and that the protection of this area should be one of the top priorities of the community. This information was used to educate the public, get them involved, and start a stormwater management plan so that the area could further be protected. Anthony explained that in order to accomplish this, he had to get the local community to form a team that cared about the task and bought into the goal, and was motivated and equipped with the right knowledge to make an impact.
Another impact from the study was that the area was able to be recognized and designated to be protected as “Wild and Scenic”. This was something that had to be approved by Congress, because the designation itself is a federal standard. In order to accomplish this, Congress required these watershed to meet 3 criteria; first they had to meet scientific data that showed the area was unique, when compared on a regional scale. Next, they had to develop a watershed management plan, this requirement was part of the catalyst for the final requirement, which was that the local community had to be supportive and committed to protecting the river. Part of the management plan included doing a rapid bio assessment, in which organisms are collected from specific location, and used as biological indicators of the water quality. To me, this is a fascinating concept, and fortunately we were able to have guest speaker Mike Beauchene come in and talk about this program in which he directly took place in helping to develop, (see my other presentation for more info!).
Anthony said that the process of getting the public involve was not easy, however he said that it wasn’t exactly pulling teeth either because the locals really did feel a connection to this watershed, even before all of the efforts to be nationally recognized. Naturally, the local community wanted to protect what they had, more than ever. Anthony said that a few things were crucial to getting the public involved:
-Be open and forthcoming
-Disinformation can be fatal
-Don’t panic; take time
-Be proactive, not reactive
I think that his advice is really spot-on and makes sense. His first point, to be open and forthcoming makes the most sense to me. If you withhold information or don’t tell the whole truth, you risk loosing the trust of the public. This really realtes to live in general, I’ve found that if I screw something up, the best course of action is to just come clean, because eventually the truth comes out and you are better off dealing with it head on than trying to negate the issue. Overall, I think that the presentation that Anthony gave was both enlightening and inspiring. It was great that the residents were able to take action when they did, because if not the area would have inevitably been developed on and the land may have never been recognized for its full potential.