NH’s critical coastal salt marshes get $2 million federal boost

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 12-18-2023 6:42 AM

It’s not a surprise that the New Hampshire project that won $2 million in funding in the latest federal conservation program involves saving our salt marshes from a host of threats.

“The projects are heavy on watershed restoration – riverways, coastal waterways. It’s been decades now of folks all over the country recognizing the importance of working on watersheds … of protecting an entire watershed instead of just a piece of it, which is what we would have done in the past,” said Shannon Estenoz, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Estenoz was talking about $141 million in grants awarded to 74 projects through the latest round of what is called the America the Beautiful Challenge. While some didn’t deal with water – Vermont got $1 million to produce a long-term conservation plan – many did. Massachusetts and Connecticut, for example, received six-figure grants to improve “aquatic connectivity for imperiled species in the Appalachian Corridor,” which often means removing dams on rivers and upgrading road culverts over streams, providing the extra benefit of resilience against erratic rainfall.

New Hampshire received $2 million, to which it will add $220,000 in state funds, for a Department of Environmental Services program designed to help salt marshes, areas along the coast where salt water and fresh water mix. Such areas can teem with life that isn’t found elsewhere and act as barriers against ocean storms but they’ve been shrinking for centuries due to coastal development and are threatened by pollution, climate change and flooding from both directions: heavy downpours inland and rising levels at sea.

The project from DES is also designed to “foster a community of practice focused on adaptive management of salt marsh health among partners and stakeholders,” which is also a key part of the America the Beautiful Challenge.

“We invest in community-led conservation, what people think are the biggest conservation needs in their communities,” said Estenoz. “The idea is to invest in good ideas that come from the ground up. The approach is grounded in experience, in realism, a desire to have durable conservation.”

The recent grants are the second set handed out under the program. More are coming, Estenoz said: “We’ve got a billion dollars to hand out.”

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