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DNA’s summer program emphasizes a variety of science-based activities and fieldtrips for participating youth. A combination of experiential learning, field trips and presentations by experts in the field helps strengthen STEM skills and enhance awareness of STEM field career paths and opportunities.

I am determined to make a difference.  I don’t want my kids to suffer just because they live in rural Duplin County.  I want to show them things that kids in other counties are exposed to. I want my kids to have the same opportunities.”  

- Earlean Rivers, Executive Director, Diversity Nurtures Achievements Community Youth Center

Our Role

Through our Resourceful Communities program, we provided small grant support that supported a summer camp for 30 low-income youth of color. That summer camp provided STEM education, 7 field trips that emphasized nature and science, and a speaker series focused on career exploration. We worked with DNA to strengthen evaluation, program planning, fundraising and grant writing skills, as well as connect with new partners at State Parks and peer organizations.

Why This Project Matters

In Duplin County, NC, only 10% of residents over 25 hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, and despite deep cultural connections to natural resources, the area is home to significant environmental injustices. More broadly, people of color are underrepresented in the environmental field, comprising only 12.4% of environmental nonprofits, 15.5% of environmental government agencies and 12% of environmental foundations.

Our Resourceful Communities program works with community organizations to strengthen locally-driven programming in economically- and socially-distressed rural communities. We recognize the critical role of organizations like DNA to increase awareness of career opportunities and engagement with natural resource professionals, particularly professionals of color, in addition to changing inequities in access to public natural spaces for under-represented populations.

Brown Trout

Recreational trout fishing is a common pastime in states with waters that support the biological requirements of this popular sportfish. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) raises and stocks the majority of trout for fishermen in their state; however, they have a finite capacity to grow fish at their hatcheries.

Our Role

To add to the number of fish stocked in Maryland streams, MD DNR turned to the Freshwater Institute to grow thousands of extra brown trout. A similar partnership took place from 2011-2015 when the Freshwater Institute grew and supplemented more than 100,000 rainbow trout for Maryland’s stocking program. While Freshwater Institute's fish production staff is well-versed in rainbow trout culture, they had never raised brown trout before. Despite this, the team was up for the challenge.

In 2018, Freshwater Institute procured brown trout eggs from a Virginia hatchery. Over the next few months, the fish hatched and were successfully grown in Freshwater Institute's state-of-the-art aquaculture systems, reaching ¼ pound in just 7-8 months.

Why this project matters

In late May 2019, more than 10,000 brown trout were picked up and taken to a MD DNR hatchery for eventual Fall stocking, at which time they’ll be large enough to stretch a line and put up a fight on rod and reel. Recreational fishing not only gives Maryland residents the chance to get outdoors and connect with nature, it also brings in valuable revenue to support conservation efforts and boost the local economy. The Freshwater Institute plans to continue supplementing these colorful and highly sought after fish to the State of Maryland and its anglers in 2020 and beyond. 

Brook trout in Pendleton County, W.V.

The brook trout is the only trout species native to West Virginia streams. And just like the state it thrives in, it’s quite a sight to behold. The trout has a dark green back with small markings, bluish sides and a pink belly. Its sides are covered in yellow and red dots and its fins are orange-red with a white strip on the front.

Unfortunately, West Virginia’s natural choice for a state fish is declining. Changes in land use, increasing water temperature and loss of streamside canopy and shade have caused populations to dwindle.

Our Role

Freshwater Institute staff noticed Rockymarsh Run, a local stream that flows next to their facility, has the correct water temperature and environmental conditions to support brook trout. However, the stream was empty of the native fish, suggesting other variables could be partly responsible for the decline of brook trout. A conversation with WV DNR biologists theorized that calcium precipitate could be having a negative effect on juvenile brook trout.

Calcium precipitate, also known as marl, is common to hardwater streams. However, calcium ions only remain in solution when water pH is low or slightly acidic. When hard water is aerated, the pH shifts upward and calcium precipitates out of solution, forming a powdery silt that could cover and potentially suffocate brook trout eggs and young fish.

An experiment was developed to test the hypothesis. Three very different water types that are common to Rockymarsh Run were created in the Freshwater Institute's new research facilities for use in the trial, including a raw springwater condition with low pH, a lightly aerated water with mid-range pH, and a continuously aerated treatment with high pH and obvious calcium precipitate. Brook trout eggs from Virginia's Paint Bank Fish Hatchery were obtained and stocked in replicate trays with fine gravel to simulate the substrate used in brook trout nests.

Juvenile brook trout survival was low across all treatments; however, not a single brook trout survived in the high pH and calcium precipitate condition. Calcium siltation covered the gravel and brook trout eggs in these containers.  

Why this project matters

While the results were not entirely conclusive, the findings supported the hypothesis that calcium or marl precipitate could be limiting brook trout survival in hardwater streams like Rockymarsh Run.

Additionally, Freshwater Institute staff continued to grow the remaining brook trout onsite. In mid-March, several hundred brook trout were picked up by WV DNR and reintroduced into the local Opequon Creek with hopes that they continue to grow and thrive. The stocking was carried out in partnership with Shepherd University's Ichthyology class as a hands-on learning experience for local college students.

This synergistic project between the WV DNR and The Conservation Fund's Freshwater Institute resulted in positive outcomes that are aiding brook trout reintroduction efforts and contributing to successful conservation in West Virginia.

Sodalis Nature Preserve. Photo by Steve Orr.
At the southern border of Hannibal, bat biologists from the Missouri Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that an extensive network of mines and caves, like those immortalized in Twain’s novels, provided essential hibernating habitat for an estimated 168,000 Indiana bats—approximately one-third of all the Indiana bats known to exist. No other bat hibernaculum of this size occurs anywhere else in the world. Prior to this discovery, experts presumed that all Indiana bats hibernated further south and in considerably smaller numbers, changing what we know about the species.

Our Role

With our extensive experience in infrastructure mitigation projects, we saw an opportunity to preserve this sensitive habitat, nearly triple the amount of recreational trails in the city and create environmental education opportunities—with absolutely no cost to the City of Hannibal.

The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the City of Hannibal, purchased 185 acres with funds from the Flanagan South Pipeline Mitigation fund provided by Enbridge Inc., which supports mitigation for impacts to endangered species and migratory birds resulting from the construction of the nearby pipeline.

The Sodalis Nature Preserve is now the second largest park in the City. Plans for the new nature preserve include nearly 6 miles of recreational trails and a mile long paved accessible hike/bike trail. It will also serve as a hands-on laboratory for students to observe and research bats.  Gates were installed over the mine entrances that allow bats to enter and exit the mine and keep people out.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation holds a conservation easement, ensuring the property—and the bats—will be protected forever, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor and manage the bat populations on the property. 

Why This Project Matters

The conservation value of this property cannot be overstated. It had to be preserved, but its cost would have crippled the budget of a small city like Hannibal. The Conservation Fund’s knowledge of mitigation funds led to a solution that saved the City millions of dollars and created the potential for additional economic benefits through nature-based activities and recreation on the new preserve.

“It was an incredibly stressful project to work on, but it was top-notch fun. This is the kind of stuff we live for. What I hope is that I can bring my grandkids here one day and be able to stand at the entrance and look down the corridor and see the mines. And then sit here in the evening and watch the bats come out in tens of thousands.”

Clint Miller, Midwest Project Director, The Conservation Fund

Protecting Open Space for People and Nature: Sodalis Nature Preserve

Dedication Of Sodalis Nature Preserve in Hannibal, Missouri


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Fortunate enough to have an intact historical district and access to recreational amenities, Tracy City has begun a serious effort to become the gateway community to the region’s outdoor and cultural assets for travelers. Seeking to leverage their early successes to drive local economic development, a group of Tracy City representatives formed a team to attend The Conservation Fund’s Appalachian Gateway Community Regional Workshop, an offering of the Appalachian Gateway Community Initiative in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Endowment of the Arts that helps communities capitalize on their natural assets to develop comprehensive strategy to catalyze natural and cultural heritage tourism. 

The Tracy City team—representing the area’s Arts Council, South Cumberland State Park, Tracy City Council, and the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance—attended the workshop in Ringgold, Georgia, with other Appalachian gateway communities from Virginia, Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina. Through a mix of expert-led instructional sessions focused on building local asset-based economies, funding and building partnerships to implement projects, and tackling bigger efforts like transportation, wayfinding, marketing and dedicated facilitated team planning time, each team came out of the workshop with an action plan.

The Tracy City team’s plan focused on the revitalization and connection of two culturally significant landmarks: Railroad Avenue and Mountain Goat Trail (MGT). Railroad Avenue—home to a former roundhouse and depot facility that was once the regional economic engine of coal and coke production—would be transformed into a public park and trailhead. The plan also called for extending the MGT—a rails-to-trails style project—from the town of Monteagle into downtown Tracy City, connecting four municipalities in Franklin and Grundy Counties. Tracy City was to serve as a gateway for access to this new park and trailhead, to be known as Old Roundhouse Park, and their action plan gave them tangible steps to make it happen.  

TracyCity image
Tracy City Old Roundhouse Park model. The proposed Mountain Goat Trail is a 35-mile rails-to-trails project connecting communities from Cowan to Palmer. Credit: Hedstrom Design

Why This Project Matters

The vision for Old Roundhouse Park will provide an outlet for local residents and nearby communities to have a place to gather, provide a venue for the arts, and enhance downtown life for families as well as welcome visitors. The team planned for an aggressive timeline to complete the acquisition of the Old Roundhouse property, complete the Tracy City section of the Mountain Goat Trail, and create a master plan for the design of the park in a matter of seven months—and they did it!

The workshop gave team leaders tools to leverage partnerships with the stakeholders like the City of Tracy City, Discover Together Grundy—a county-wide effort to support family resiliency organization—the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the Southeast Tennessee Development District to secure critical funding for their project. The city won a $604,000 Alternatives Transportation grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to pay for the trail completion. A seed grant from the workshop helped support the procurement of a consultant to develop a master plan for the park. The team and their partners will continue to raise funds for the construction of the park as the Mountain Goat Trail enters its final construction phase to link Tracy City and develop its newest gateway amenity, continuing their progress in celebrating their natural assets, while building community wealth.

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Photo credit: Sam Dean

Through training, technical assistance, workshops and events, CLN’s expertise has served more than 3,500 communities across the country and has distributed more than $3.6 million in grants and community services.

We’ve also developed national and regional programs like Balancing Nature and Commerce, which helps rural communities like Rockbridge County, Virginia, capitalize on the economic opportunities of their natural assets and their locations as gateways to our great American parks, forests and other public and private lands. Rockbridge leaders created an action plan that sustainably supports more than 100,000 acres of public land and builds an outdoor recreational economy, generating jobs and small businesses, as well as increasing visitor spending in local communities. Our Balancing Nature and Commerce programs were utilized in more than 150 communities in 2018 alone.

In 2018, we celebrated two decades of success at CLN – and it was a banner year. We served more than 350 communities, far surpassing our annual average of 179 communities, and we more than doubled the average number of grant recipients this year.

We’re proud to be the catalyst for such innovative conservation, and we’re excited to see what the next 20 years brings.

“Taking six folks with diverse backgrounds and community goals to a workshop hundreds of miles away seemed like risky business.  We were, however, inspired by workshop presenters as well as the other attending communities and from that adventure have been able to create partnerships and collaborations that are producing tangible results and excitement in our region.  I am forever grateful for the opportunity.”

                                                            - Jean Clark, Director of Tourism, Lexington & the Rockbridge Area Tourism

Photo by Ivan LaBianca.
In a joint effort to conserve this important resource, we have partnered with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and other local organizations to form the Milwaukee River Watershed Conservation Partnership (MRWCP). The MRWCP is a coalition of agricultural producers, agribusinesses, state and local governments, community organizations, and land trusts coordinated by MMSD and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program. MRWCP works with local producers and landowners to keep nutrients in the soil, sediment out of the water, and our agricultural lands thriving.

Our Role

As a member of MRWCP, we work closely with local landowners and partners, taking a collaborative approach to agricultural conservation that helps mitigate flooding and stormwater runoff downstream, improve soil quality and support smart agricultural production.

Conservation Easements & Working Soils®
MRWCP’s Working Soils® program is a complement to Greenseams®, a MMSD flood management program implemented by The Conservation Fund which promotes the protection of open space and hydric soils that serve as a “natural sponge” to prevent flooding in the greater Milwaukee area. Similarly, Working Soils supports flood management by permanently protecting open space while also keeping agricultural lands in production.

The Conservation Fund works with willing landowners to establish agricultural conservation easements through NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP). With an easement, a landowner is able to sell the rights to develop the land while maintaining ownership. Once an easement is established, we work closely with NRCS and landowners to identify concerns related to erosion, flooding, wetland restorations, wildlife habitat and soil health. With this information, we create a conservation plan that best suits their property’s needs, and gives landowners a blueprint for best management practices, such as cover crop rotation, grassed waterways, or no-till farming, to improve yield and soil health. We also help connect landowners to funding resources or cost share opportunities to put these practices into action.

Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families (CFF)
Recognizing the importance of collaboration and information sharing among local communities, we work closely with the Milwaukee River Watershed Clean Farm Families, a coalition of local farmers who are dedicated to improving soil health and water quality in the region by working with land and water conservationists, agribusinesses, local land trusts, MMSD, NRCS and other farmers. This producer-led group is using peer-to-peer communication and outreach, cost-share programs and conservation practice demonstrations to advance the connection between farming and land stewardship.

Through activities such as field days, test plots and demonstrations, CFF producers explore innovative ways to further soil and water conservation, and in turn increase their bottom line. The CFF Cover Crop Incentive Program, funded through the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection  (DATCP) grant program, and the Fund for Lake Michigan, has already led to 906 acres of conservation tillage, 112 acres of nutrient management planning, 80 acres of low disturbance manure application, and 524 acres of cover crops planted in the watershed.

Why This Project Matters

Healthy watersheds provide critical services to local communities, such as clean drinking water, productive crops and natural flood protection. They also support our economies, environment and quality of life. Implementing cost-effective conservation practices that protect the soil can mitigate flooding and water pollution, thus creating healthy, species-rich waterways that will benefit the entire watershed.

And by working closely with producers and local partners to educate, collaborate, and innovate on what agricultural conservation can look like, we are supporting a community-based approach that is safeguarding vital agricultural resources and improving water quality for future generations.

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Blog: Healthy Soils, Clean Water, Smart Business
View the latest MRWCP newsletter


Matorka’s business relies on Iceland’s abundant natural resources, and they decided to pursue land-based aquaculture as part of their commitment to using those resources sustainably.

Our Role

After having designed the station inhouse, Matorka came to the Freshwater Institute for our expertise in sustainable aquaculture technology, particularly a form of technology known as recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), which makes it possible to grow fish on land without the use of antibiotics, while reusing water, repurposing waste and minimizing negative effects on wild fish populations.

The Freshwater Institute was contracted as an independent third party aquaculture engineer to analyze and verify the basic designs drawn by Matorka´s chief operating officer. Because of Matorka’s unique location above volcanic rock—which naturally helps provide abundant clean water—as well as their use of the country’s geothermal power supply, the company was well-suited to an approach that uses partial reuse aquaculture systems (PRAS). With its unique PRAS system, Matorka pulls water from underground sources, uses that water and then filters and reuses it multiple times through the system’s tanks before being filtered and released into the ocean.

"Our mission through our new state-of-the-art facility is to both produce a superior seafood product and use the resources that make this product possible in a sustainable way. The Freshwater Institute’s technical knowledge and industry expertise throughout each phase of the process gave us and our investors the confidence we needed for the project."

— Arni Pall Einarsson, CEO, Matorka

Throughout the planning, design and construction process, the Freshwater Institute provided expertise through technical and biological design review, due diligence and design services to address specific detailed issues.

Why this project matters

Matorka achieved its first harvest at the new Grindavik facility in 2017 with a capacity of 1,500 metric tons. After the success of this first phase, Matorka is now doubling in size to a 3,000 metric ton capacity, making them one of the largest land-based fish farms in the world. At the Freshwater Institute, we make it a priority to share our knowledge and technical expertise with those in the aquaculture industry. It’s part of our mission to support access to local, healthy, sustainable seafood for consumers everywhere.

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Visit Matorka's website
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Photo credit: Brad Meiklejohn
This rich ecosystem sustains a host of other wildlife – bears, moose, eagles – as well as Alaska Natives that have depended on the land and waters for subsistence for hundreds of years.

The lake is also the heart of the Bristol Bay watershed, the largest – and most valuable – salmon fishery in the world. The $1.5 billion salmon industry supplies half of the world’s salmon and supports 10,000 jobs. The region’s bounty is due to the undisturbed lakes, streams, ponds and wetlands that keep the salmon coming back every year.

Our Role

In 2017, The Conservation Fund, Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and the Pedro Bay Corporation completed a conservation easement that protects more than 12,600 acres at the eastern end of Lake Iliamna, including an archipelago of 173 islands and 283 miles of shoreline. The islands provide remote, wild and intact wetland habitat, and more than half of the acreage protected by the easement includes nationally-declining coastal wetland types.

Funding for the conservation easement came The Conservation Fund’s Alaska in-lieu fee wetlands mitigation program – the first of its kind in the state – as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. 

The Conservation Fund and Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust have been working together for 10 years to advance conservation in southwest Alaska, including the protection of 20,000 acres at Wood-Tikchick State Park.

The Conservation Fund and Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust have been working together for 10 years to advance conservation in southwest Alaska, including the protection of 20,000 acres at Wood-Tikchick State Park.

Why This Project Matters

The Islands of Lake Iliamna provide critical habitat for sockeye salmon, which support a robust commercial fishery, recreational lodge operations, and traditional subsistence activates throughout Bristol Bay. Our large-scale conservation strategy will continue to help protect important habitat for sockeye salmon as well as other fish and wildlife in the region, including trout, birds, brown bear and moose, that are important to rural residents and Native village corporations challenged with balancing economic development and resource conservation.

Fly high above Lake Iliamna with this video by Jason Ching, following the crew of the Alaska Salmon Program as they conduct sockeye salmon surveys during one of the largest migrations in recent history.

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Where We Work: Alaska
Live Oak Farm
Rice farms also provide benefits to wildlife. In the winter, when rice fields are flooded to prepare for the next season, the fields become wetlands, creating ideal resting and feeding habitat for migratory birds heading south.

Our Role

In 2017, The Conservation Fund was awarded $500,000 through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Coast Conservation program to protect Live Oak Farm, a 100-year-old, family-owned rice farm in Vermilion Parish. Located along the Vermilion River just north of the Intracoastal Waterway, Live Oak Farm is recognized as one of the southernmost remaining rice farms in Louisiana. In addition to rice, the farm produces cattle, crawfish and alligator. The farm is also a significant resource for migratory birds, with up to 70,000 waterfowl wintering on this acreage annually.

This grant will be matched with funds from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program and its Agricultural Land Easement program – the first time such funds have been used in Louisiana – to purchase a conservation easement on a portion of the 5,800-acre farm. The conservation easement allows the property to remain privately owned and keeps it in agricultural production in perpetuity, ensuring continued benefits for wildlife.

Why This Project Matters

Vermilion Parish has seen a significant decrease in rice fields over the last 20 years. This trend represents a substantial threat to the migratory birds that rely heavily on flooded rice fields, which compensate for the loss of wetlands resulting from coastal erosion.

Sustainable management practices at Live Oak Farm are also directly contributing to improved water quality for the Vermilion River, currently classified as an impaired waterway. Tail water recovery systems on the rice fields capture suspended nutrients and sediments on site, ensuring less pollution downstream and to the Gulf Coast region.

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