Habitat Restoration

 

Planting trees to restore habitat

While existing laws and programs now protect or encourage preservation of many natural resources and landscapes, there is a clear need to go beyond protection and preservation - to restoration of damaged critical natural habitats. Habitat restoration is an important and growing element of efforts to preserve our natural heritage and to protect and restore the critical "services" that the environment provides.

 

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is the principal state agency charged with maintaining the quality of the environment and protecting the natural resources of the Commonwealth. EEA coordinates, supports, or is a partner with state agencies and others in various restoration programs and projects.

What is habitat restoration?

 

Aerial view of coastal wetlands
Restoration is broadly defined as the act, process, or result of returning a degraded or former habitat to a healthy, self-sustaining condition that resembles as closely as possible its pre-disturbed state. Examples of restoration include removing material from a filled wetland, increasing tidal flow to a restricted wetland, re-establishing natural river flow, enhancing degraded seafloor habitats, treating runoff to improve water quality, cleaning up contaminated habitats, and managing invasive species. Many projects involve multiple types of restoration and focus on improving the health of whole ecosystems.

Why is habitat restoration a priority?

Massachusetts has lost some of its natural habitats to historic human impacts while others have been damaged. Some examples include:

  • Over one-third of our wetlands have been lost to filling and other alterations
  • Thousands of acres of coastal marshes are impacted by restricted tidal flow
  • Over 3,000 dams fragment and degrade our rivers and streams
  • Numerous river basins are highly stressed due to lack of adequate water flow
  • Ocean resources have been damaged and depleted
  • Road and rail crossings alter wetland hydrology and impede fish and wildlife passage
  • Habitats across the state are degraded by poor water quality and contamination
  • Dozens of non-native species have invaded vast areas of our natural landscapes

 

Building a wide culvert to allow the river's flow
These impacts translate into lost habitat and ecological services for Massachusetts citizens and its wildlife inhabitants. Whether protecting people from flooding, improving water quality, enhancing property values, supporting natural resource-based industries (e.g., fishing), providing recreation opportunities, or sustaining public water supplies; the natural habitats of Massachusetts offer immeasurable benefits to the public. When these benefits are diminished, people and communities suffer the consequences. Therefore, EEA places a high priority on efforts to restore natural habitats and the services they provide.

Programs and Projects Restoring Habitats

Recognizing the importance of restoration in the overall toolbox of environmental stewardship, EEA supports a variety of programs and projects that focus on restoring critical natural habitats.

EEA Programs

Bottom Sediment Enhancement Project will enhance key bottom sediments within Massachusetts Bay by building a rocky reef in order to provide habitat that is critical to several life stages of commercially important species such as American lobster, winter flounder, sea scallops, sea urchins, Atlantic cod, and numerous other species of fish and invertebrates.

 

Mapped areas of eelgrass
Eelgrass Restoration Project is underway in Boston Harbor to provide important shallow water eelgrass habitat to juvenile crustaceans, shellfish, and finfish which commonly inhabit sea grass meadows.

Lakes and Ponds Program works with local groups and municipalities to protect, manage, and restore these valuable aquatic resources.

Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) is responsible for the conservation and protection of Massachusetts' biodiversity including the species officially listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. NHESP operates the Ecological Restoration Program that supports restoration efforts in a variety of habitat types.

Natural Resource Damages Assessment and Restoration Program allows the Commonwealth, under state and federal environmental statutes, to bring an action or claim for liability against a responsible party for natural resource damages (NRD) resulting from a release or threat of release of oil or hazardous substances. The Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs has been designated by the Governor as Trustee for natural resources of the Commonwealth. The NRD process generally includes injury assessment / quantification, damage determination, and restoration planning / implementation to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of the injured resources. The overall goal of NRD is to restore injured resources to functional ecological systems, and may also include compensation to the public for the lost use (including human use) of the injured resource from onset of injury to completion of restoration.

Recreational and Anadromous Fisheries Program is responsible for the management and restoration of recreational and anadromous fish resources.

Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) was created as a new division at Department of Fish and Game in 2009 with the merger of the Riverways and Wetlands Restoration Programs. DER coordinates ecological restoration to improve habitat for fish and wildlife and to restore important ecosystem services that improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts citizens.

Public-Private Partnerships

Massachusetts Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP), although not a state program, is closely affiliated with EEA restoration efforts and provides significant support for aquatic habitat restoration across the Commonwealth. Based on a model of public-private partnerships that is strongly encouraged by EEA, the CWRP is a non-profit organization that works to generate donations of funds and technical services from private companies that help advance aquatic habitat restoration projects. Donations often serve as critical non-federal match for federal agency restoration grants.

Regional Habitat Restoration

The Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment is an international body with representatives from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Its mission is to maintain and enhance environmental quality in the Gulf of Maine (Cape Cod Bay to Nova Scotia) and to allow for sustainable resource use by existing and future generations. The Council pursues this mission by guiding and supporting research, management, and habitat restoration activities in the Gulf of Maine, and by fostering cross-border cooperation among government, non-government, academic and private groups.

 


This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Water Policy