Environment | National

Economist: Penobscot Nation aims for rebirth of namesake river

"The Penobscot river takes its name from the Penobscot nation, the American-Indian tribe whose ancestral lands lie along its banks. It is the largest river in Maine and the second-largest in New England. For thousands of years the tribe lived along, and off, the river, eating its fish, canoeing on it and performing ceremonies to honour it. Its clear water flowed freely. Only storms, droughts or beaver dams interrupted its flow. That changed with the arrival of European immigrants, who built more than 100 dams for timber and, later, for mills and power plants.

The Great Works dam in Bradley, Maine has blocked the river for almost two centuries. But on June 11th it began to be demolished, a first step in opening up 1,000 miles of river. The project is a collaboration between business, conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and the Penobscot nation. The removal is part of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, a $62m public-private project, which also involves removing the Veazie dam in 2013 and helping fish to get through at two other dams.

This last is important. The wild Atlantic salmon, which once spawned in the Penobscot, has had difficulty making its way up river. Only 3,000 now remain of a population that used to number 75,000, and many of those come from hatcheries. The river’s anglers traditionally sent the first salmon caught each year to the president, but the last time this was done was in 1992, to George Bush senior.

Get the Story:
The Penobscot’s song (The Economist 6/16)

Related Stories:
Penobscot Nation welcomes start to $62M dam removal project (6/12)

Join the Conversation