A $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help restore some of Maine’s highest-value aquatic networks from fragmentation and degradation by improving stream crossings on private roads, The Nature Conservancy said Monday.

Project partners led by the conservancy in Maine will use an innovative design and installation approach to improve habitat and aquatic organism passage and reduce impacts from increasingly volatile storm flows, it said. With over 11 million acres of Maine forest in private hands, the project is designed to influence stream-friendly management on thousands of miles of aquatic habitat.

“We welcome this investment that will support The Nature Conservancy’s effort to improve the ecological health of more than 25,000 square miles of watershed in Maine,” the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation said in a joint statement. “By strengthening roadways and municipal infrastructure, this project will also support the forest economy and the safety of Maine’s rural communities. Furthermore, the return of healthier rivers and streams helps local economies by increasing sport fishing and other recreational opportunities.”

The project will provide the short-term benefit of construction jobs, with long-term benefits that include increased road stability and greater safety throughout Maine’s aging road network, the conservancy said in a news release. It will focus on waterways that have some of the last endangered Atlantic salmon populations in the United States, as well as critical Eastern brook trout habitat.

Fragmented aquatic habitat has been identified as a primary threat to both species, it said, degrading healthy stream function and keeping fish from some of the most important spawning and rearing habitat.

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