The Environmental Protection Agency’s New England regional office presented two local environmental organizations and a salt marsh advocate with Environmental Merit Awards at a recent ceremony at Faneuil Hall.
The Rhode Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association were recognized for their joint efforts to improve fish passage on the Pawcatuck River as well as for their initiative to attain a federal Wild and Scenic designation for the entire river system. Wenley Ferguson, the Restoration Coordinator for Save The Bay, received an award for her 30 years of salt marsh restoration and advocacy work.
"New England is rich with individuals, businesses, and organizations that exhibit their strong commitment to local communities and to a clean and healthful environment,” EPA New England Regional Administrator Alexandra Dunn said in a press release announcing the awards. "EPA is very proud to recognize these meaningful accomplishments.”
The Nature Conservancy and the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association have worked together to improve the flow and water quality of the Pawcatuck River. With a $10 million federal grant, the two groups, collaborating with landowners and citizens, have removed five colonial-era dams, restoring fish passage on the river.
Christopher Fox, Executive Director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, said the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management had also worked on the fish passage project, and noted that DEM Director Janet Coit had nominated the two groups.
“It was Director Coit that nominated The Nature Conservancy and Wood-Pawcatuck for the award because of the hard work that we did in concert with them and their fisheries staff,” he said.
Fox said his organization was now focused on achieving Wild and Scenic designation for the river system from the federal government. The National Park Service program, which recognizes the unique qualities of rivers and ensures their protection, is reported to be in the final stages of approving the Wood-Pawcatuck river system.
Tim Mooney of the Rhode Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy said the award underscored the value of the Pawcatuck river system to the entire region.
“The Pawcatuck is one of the most important rivers for people and wildlife in southern New England,” he said. “The EPA’s Environmental Merit Award is an affirmation of all of our efforts to make the river healthier and more resilient.”
Wenley Ferguson, who works with the DEM and volunteers to help salt marshes adapt to sea level rise, said she spends most of her time in the field and is in her office so seldom that she almost missed the telephone call from Coit, notifying her that she had won the award.
Ferguson said she couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I have a feeling that this is my job for my lifetime,” she said, standing on the shore of Charlestown’s Ninigret salt pond. “My husband asked me what I want to do when I retire and I probably want to do more stuff like this. I can’t imagine not being connected to salt marshes and coastal resources.”
She added, “Seeing the extent of degradation, sometimes it’s depressing, it’s daunting. But then a day like today, I fell like there’s value in what we’re doing."