Michael Horne, 973-417-9552 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 New York residents and visitors. Through coordination with conservation partners, the Service has determined that areas of eastern Dutchess County could provide important habitat for shrubland wildlife and help connect existing conservation areas. Additionally, the agency identified nine areas in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
“This proposal was developed through extensive coordination with our conservation partners, and would enhance our ongoing commitment to conserve species like the New England cottontail, monarch butterfly, and American woodcock that rely on shrublands and young forest,” said Refuge Manager Michael Horne of Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. “Stakeholder input will ensure we direct our conservation efforts where they can make the most difference for wildlife and local communities.”
“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 Connecticut Department of Environmental and Energy Protection 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 several turtle species, including the threatened bog turtle, whippoorwill and blue-winged warblers.
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.
“As landscapes and land use patterns change, one of the most important roles that conservation efforts like this one can play is to maintain a mosaic of habitats that support the greatest diversity of wildlife,” Horne said. “A quick visit to nearby wildlife refuges like Shawangunk Grasslands and Wallkill River demonstrates this approach. The best part of all is that we work closely with our neighbors and partners to achieve these goals.”
“A new federal wildlife refuge in Dutchess County is a welcome step to protect New York’s New England cottontail habitat and conserve an important forested area that is home to a variety of fauna and flora,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos. “In addition to DEC lands and State Park properties, this refuge dedicated to providing wildlife habitat for this uncommon rabbit would help secure the future of the unique species. We look forward to working with our federal partners to manage more lands for New England cottontails and other wildlife species dependent on young, regenerating forest habitat and making these habitats accessible to the public.”
If the plan is approved after the public comment period, the agency could begin working with willing and interested landowners in Dutchess County to acquire up to 1,500 acres through a combination of purchasing conservation easements and buying land, from willing sellers only. Current refuge staff would manage all acquired lands using 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.
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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