New Refuge Approved!
We are pleased to announce that in October 2016, Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), and Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director of the Service, approved Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge (NWR; refuge)—a new refuge dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife in the Northeast.
Alternative B was selected from the final Great Thicket NWR Land Protection Plan and Environmental Assessment (LPP/EA). The Service may now acquire up to 15,000 acres of wildlife habitat from willing landowners as part of the refuge. The final plan depicts 10 Refuge Acquisition Focus Areas (RAFAs) in New England and New York which represent the outer boundaries of areas of interest.
Summary of Public Comment on the Draft LPP/EA
We initially released the draft LPP/EA for 45 days of public review and comment from January 19 to March 4, 2016. In response to several requests, we subsequently extended the public comment period another 30 days.
During the comment period, we held information sessions upon request. Two were held in Maine, three in New Hampshire, two in Massachusetts, two in New York, one in Connecticut, and six in Rhode Island. Audiences included sportsmen’s groups, land trusts, and town and county officials. All six Congressional delegations were contacted initially via email, and follow-up phone calls or in-person visits occurred with most district staff offices.
After the 75-day public comment period ended, we compiled all of the comments we received. In total, we received 6,064 written comments, of which 5,523 were a form letter in support of the proposal. We also received one petition signed by approximately 2,455 individuals in support of the proposal. All comments received are summarized and responded to in appendix C of the final LPP/EA.
Changes from Draft to Final LPP/EA
Modifications to alternative B from the draft to final LPP/EA include minor corrections or changes in response to public and partner comments on the draft plan. For example, we reduced the Plymouth RAFA in Massachusetts in order to better complement the priorities of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in this area. Our target for Service acquisition remains at 500 acres in this RAFA. We also modified the Northern Housatonic RAFA to complement the interests of Dutchess County, New York and our conservation partners in that area. Our target acquisition remains at 2,000 acres in this RAFA. Appendix C in the final plan includes more details on these changes and our responses to other comments we received on RAFA boundaries.
Click here to access the final LPP/EA document. To request the document in print or on CD-Rom, contact Beth Goldstein, Natural Resource Planner, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 253-8564.
We will work with partners and willing-seller property owners to identify opportunities to acquire priority lands in fee simple or conservation easement within the 10 Great Thicket RAFAs. Willing sellers will be compensated for their land based on the appraised market value. Landowners within RAFAs choosing not to sell will retain all the rights, privileges, and obligations of land ownership.
If you are a landowner within one of the 10 RAFAs and are interested in selling or donating your fee simple interest or a conservation easement on your land, please complete the “Landowner Interest Form” and submit it to: USFWS, Northeast Region, Realty Chief; 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley MA 01035. If you are unsure of whether you are within one of the 10 Great Thicket RAFAs, please contact the Realty Chief at 413-253-8590.
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