Virtual Lunch & Learn with Conservation Commissioners: RIVERS

Posted May 13, 2021

Attend this free, open to all virtual Lunch & Learn webinar today offered by the Massachusetts  Association of Conservation Commissions:

Rivers Without (Modern) Humans: The Ecological Baseline is Messy and Complicated

What should a river look like? This fundamental question lies at the heart of our river management practices. However, it is surprisingly challenging to answer this question clearly. To indirectly answer it, Dr. Burchsted will show data that addresses the “baseline condition” of rivers in New England, as an approximation of rivers prior to modern human impacts.
This talk will present data from multiple sources, including physical surveys of rivers on protected lands, maps that who land use change, and written historical records. The presented information will show that, most generally, valley bottoms were far more wet prior to European colonization, with innumerable ponds and side river channels. Natural dams—which are leaky dams such as beaver dams—create both these ponds by retaining water and multiple side channels by forcing water out of the main riverbed. Natural dams additionally create wet meadows, which form on these ponds when they are filled in with sediment or when the dams break. The resulting network of leaky dams, side channels, ponds, and meadows is largely absent from our modern landscape. Because our aquatic ecosystem developed in the presence of these features, there are many ecological implications of this loss. Only a modern management program of extensively “cleaning” rivers, which continues to this day, can maintain the river networks we are currently accustomed to.  This talk concludes with broad questions regarding implications of these findings for river management.
Prof. Denise Burchsted’s expertise is in fluvial geomorphology (PhD, UConn), aquatic ecology (MFS, Yale School of Forestry), and water resources engineering (BS, UConn, and a licensed Professional Engineer). She is employed at Keene State College, where she teaches environmental studies as an Associate Professor. As a scientist, she studies rivers with limited modern human modification to generate scientifically-based targets for river restoration. Her research is funded by organizations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, Trout Unlimited, and the National Science Foundation, and her work is published in journals such as BioScience, Geomorphology, and Global Change Biology.

In addition to scientific research, she has worked as a consulting engineer and environmental advocate. In these roles, she has designed dam removals and other fish passage projects, designed salt marsh and freshwater wetland restoration projects, evaluated restoration alternatives in the Everglades, and led non-profit watershed conservation planning efforts.

Maximum of 100 seats available. First come, first served basis. 


No registration required FREE TO ATTEND – Just read below to be able to attend. 



To Join the ZOOM meeting:

This virtual event is scheduled on Thursday, May 13th at 12 Noon.

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  • Meeting ID: 896 6761 7311 Passcode: 535931

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