The Rivers Initiative

When free-flowing and connected to the sea, rivers transport fresh water, nutrients, and billions of native sea-run fish like salmon, shad, brook trout, and river herring (alewife and blueback herring) that are an essential link in the food chain.

In recent centuries, roads and dams have blocked passage and overfishing and pollution have degraded rivers. The result? Declines in populations of sea-run fish and the fish and wildlife that feed on them, which impacts peoples’ lives and livelihoods, sustenance, and traditions.

Today, when 75% of Maine’s plants and animals are vulnerable to climate change, improving the health and connectivity of Maine’s rivers is essential. More fish means more life and, thanks to the coordinated efforts of many, they’re coming back.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Rivers Initiative is currently focused on protecting and restoring five key Maine rivers: the Bagaduce, Mousam, Narraguagus, Orange, and Sheepscot rivers.

Through generous donations and collaborative efforts with partners, we’ve helped create fish passage at ten sites and completed dozens of conservation projects resulting in the protection of 18,000 acres and 24 miles of water frontage. This includes fully restoring fish passage in the Bagaduce River, revitalizing the watershed and improving the health of the Gulf of Maine at large. While climate change can feel divisive and overwhelming, passion for rivers, fish, and other other wildlife has the power to bring people together to make good things happen.

Imagine Maine rivers connected to the sea, filled with fish every spring, and sustaining wildlife and people in numerous ways for decades to come. You can be a part of making that vision a reality.


MCHT has identified rivers with the best potential for protection and restoration, where we see opportunities to make a significant impact on the local and regional ecological health.

Moussam: Provides drinking water, native brook trout habitat, and habitat for salt marsh sparrow and other species in lower watershed.

Sheepscot: Provides habitat for Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and other species.

Bagaduce: One of Maine’s most productive estuaries and now the first watershed fully restored for fish passage. Watch a video about this remarkable collaborative effort.

Narraguagus: Provides cooler, moister environment for wildlife due to limited development, and habitat for salmon and shad. Connected to the North Woods.

Orange: One of the largest sources of freshwater flowing into Cobscook Bay. The watershed contains one of the largest, un-fragmented blocks of forest habitat in coast Maine.

MCHT’s Rivers Initiative began with a focus on rivers in Downeast Maine. Watch this video to learn more about this unique part of the coast and extraordinary opportunities to make a difference for the health of the Gulf of Maine.

Areas of focus

Fish Passage

Restoring crucial fish species to the food chain, such as river herring, helps reestablish the ecological balance of Maine rivers and has a far-reaching impact. When sea-run fish are numerous, animals have a better shot at surviving and adapting in a changing climate.

Wildlife Habitat

Healthy, free-flowing rivers provide a ribbon of connected habitat, not only for fish, but for all wildlife species, which benefit from the cooler, moist habitat and depend on the water and food these rivers provide.

Local benefits

Restoring fish passage supports jobs and bait for the lobster industry and restoration of ground-fish populations. We're also protecting drinking water resources and creating more access to land and water and opportunities for recreation and eco-related tourism.

Cultural ties

People have been living in close relationship to rivers for thousands of years, and this interplay has shaped traditions, economies, activities, and even today's downtowns. We're hosting events and field trips and sharing stories and information to raise awareness and foster connection.

Join the effort

Based on current needs and opportunities, MCHT seeks at least $2 million annually to help bring these rivers back to life and increase the resilience of nearby coastal communities.

Your gift today will support the purchase and stewardship of land by MCHT and our land trust partners and will be used as partnership contributions towards efforts to restore fish passage and aquatic habitat. Together, we can make a difference for the Maine coast in a changing climate.

While climate change can feel divisive and overwhelming, passion for rivers, fish, and other wildlife has the power to bring Mainers together to make good things happen.

For further information and to make a gift, please contact:

Betsy Ham
Director of Land Protection
1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Ste. 201
Topsham, ME 04086


Nicky Blanchard
Director of Engagement
1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Ste. 201
Topsham, ME 04086


Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Main Office
1 Bowdoin Mill Island, Suite 201
Topsham, ME 04086