Rick Potvin, 860-961-4247 or Meagan Racey, 413-253-8558
Over the past century, many shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. As this habitat has disappeared from much of the landscape, the populations of more than 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have fallen alarmingly.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies, private landowners and dozens of conservation organizations have responded to this urgency by restoring and protecting shrublands and young forest throughout the landscape of New England and New York. Despite significant progress, conservationists have determined that more permanently protected and managed land is needed to restore wildlife populations and return balance to northeast woodlands.
To address this need, the Service is proposing to establish Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge--dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife to benefit Connecticut residents and visitors. Through coordination with conservation partners, the Service has determined that areas of southeastern New London and western Litchfield counties could provide important habitat for shrubland wildlife and help connect existing conservation areas. Additionally, the agency identified nine areas in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.
“This exciting region-wide effort will also assist in local conservation work,” said Rick Potvin, Refuge Manager of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. “The Service has worked with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to focus this proposal where we can best conserve wildlife. If this proposed plan is approved, the option to sell, place a conservation easement or to enter into any habitat agreement with our agency would be totally up to the landowner.”
“We’ve had incredible success in restoring New England’s only native rabbit and its habitat. Yet our work is far from done,” said Rick Jacobson, New England Cottontail Executive Committee chair and DEEP Wildlife Division Director. “We need to preserve and manage more land as shrublands and young forest to continue to advance conservation for the cottontail. But this isn't just about a rabbit. It's about American woodcock, ruffed grouse, golden-winged warblers, monarch butterflies and a whole suite of wildlife that depend on this habitat.”
Other wildlife that would benefit include box and spotted turtles, whippoorwill and blue-winged warblers.
Executive Director Stewart Hudson of Audubon Connecticut noted that the organization’s Audubon Center in Sharon could be within the potential focus area. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to achieve our common conservation goals on our property, and to protect adjacent parcels through partnerships with local landowners,” Hudson said. “Audubon has played a lead role in working with private owners in this area—the creation of Great Thicket wildlife refuge by the Service would provide additional tools for working with them to improve habitat for golden-winged warblers, ruffed grouse and other shrubland species, while also helping protect forest birds such as wood thrush and scarlet tanagers.”
A land protection plan and environmental assessment is an early step in a public process that examines whether the Service can establish a national wildlife refuge. The draft Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge Land Protection Plan explains the need for land conservation, complements existing conservation activities, and describes each of the 10 focus areas across the six states. At this stage in the process, the Service invites public comment on the draft plan, which will shape our final decision.
If the plan is approved after the public comment period, the agency could begin working with willing and interested landowners in Connecticut to acquire up to 4,000 acres through conservation easements or fee-title acquisition. Current refuge staff would manage all acquired lands within existing resources.
This process would take decades, as the Service works strictly with willing sellers only and depends on funding availability to make purchases. Lands within an acquisition boundary would not become part of the refuge unless their owners sell or donate them to the Service; the boundary has no impact on property use or who an owner can choose to sell to.
Connecticut DEEP and the Service have already partnered with private landowners in the Sharon and Ledyard areas to improve habitat for shrubland and young forest wildlife including the New England cottontail. The state has also improved habitat in the Pachaug State Forest.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest network of lands in the nation dedicated to wildlife conservation, with 563 national wildlife refuges – at least one refuge in every state – covering more than 150 million acres. A hundred years in the making, the refuge system is a network of habitats that benefits wildlife, provides unparalleled outdoor experiences for all Americans, and protects a healthy environment. Wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 2,100 types of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, including more than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals. Each year, millions of migrating birds use refuges as stepping stones while they fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes.
National wildlife refuges don’t just provide a boost to wildlife. They are strong economic engines for local communities across the country. A 2013 national report Banking on Nature found that refuges pump $2.4 billion into the economy and support more than 35,000 jobs.
The Service will accept comments through March 4, 2016 by:
The draft plan and all related documents are available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/refuges/planning/lpp/greatthicketLPP.html.
Direct links to more resources:
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
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