In an era when conservation-minded sportsmen spend most of their time trying to prevent damage from being done to their natural world, here comes a story with a refreshingly new angle: Damage being un-done.
Last week, as this video shows, the Lassiter Mill Dam on North Carolina’s Uwharrie River was removed, restoring 15 miles of free-flowing river and 174 miles of perennial stream habitat vital to fisheries that had been blocked for more than 200 years. The action will help revive sagging populations of many species, including American shad and striped bass that migrate upstream from the Atlantic Ocean.
The project was the result of a push by a wide coalition of interests from state and federal wildlife agencies to power companies. It is part of an encouraging movement across the northeast that has seen more than 240 dams removed in the last five years.
The dam was built for a grist mill in 1805 when America was busily trying to bend the natural environment to its economic purposes. Eventually more than 14,000 dams blocked rivers, bringing a boost to businesses but punching holes in ecosystems with impacts that spread from tiny mountain creeks to the wide Atlantic.
One of the most evident impacts was seen in the collapse of fish such as shad, striped bass, salmon and sea-run trout that spawn in the rivers but migrate to the ocean.
The push to reverse that damage began decades ago. Initial remedies such as fish ladders have proven ineffective in many cases, and conservationists began making the case for removal. That argument gained traction as an economic argument for restoring habitat was shown to have a better bottom-line – an argument pushed along by the consequences of the Endangered Species Act.
Groups such as American Rivers have now made dam removal a top priority, having success across the northeast as well as in other regions.