Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Fish and Wildlife Service invites feedback on proposal to work with willing landowners in southern Maine
Agency releases draft land protection plan and environmental assessment

January 19, 2016


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

American woodcock.

American woodcock. Credit: Creative Commons photo.
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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, 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 coordinated with conservation partners to identify potential areas in southern Maine that could provide important habitat for shrubland wildlife and help connect existing conservation areas. The resulting draft Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge Land Protection Plan highlights areas of York and Cumberland counties, as well as nine other areas in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.

“Shrublands are missing from our area. The refuge and our wildlife partners began to address this challenge by focusing on New England cottontail habitat, knowing that more than 65 kinds of birds, mammals and reptiles depend on young forest and shrubland,” said Refuge Manager Ward Feurt of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. “Southern Maine enjoys wildlife diversity and excellent, committed conservation partners. If this plan is approved, we look forward to working with interested focus area landowners.”   

“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.”

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 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 southern Maine to acquire up to 2,800 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.

“Nearby Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge already has a long history of working with others to restore and manage coastal lands to benefit wildlife, improve water quality and contribute to the  beauty and economy of Maine,” Feurt said. “Landowners have worked hard in York and Cumberland counties to create over 1,000 acres of young forest habitat for wildlife, and wildlife like New England cottontail and American woodcock have already begun to use some of the areas.”

These efforts include partnering with land trusts to plant viburnum and dogwoods on their properties, helping farmers to create soft transitions from field to forests, and working with woodland owners to cut trees to allow young thicket to grow.

"The fish and wildlife of northern New England need us to continue to protect habitat across our landscape and effectively manage and steward our land,” said Paul Dest, Director of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, which already manages young forest habitat on their property.  “Without a sustained, proactive approach to land conservation and natural resource management, some wildlife populations will most certainly decline over time.”

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:

  • Email with "Great Thicket LPP" in the subject line
  • Mail to Beth Goldstein, Natural Resources Planner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA; 01035-9589
  • Fax to 413-253-8480

The draft plan and all related documents are available at

Direct links to more resources:

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