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Silvio O. Conte
National Fish & Wildlife Refuge

103 East Plumtree Road
Sunderland, MA   01375
Phone Number: 413-548-8002
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Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established in 1997 to conserve, protect and enhance the abundance and diversity of native plant, fish and wildlife species and the ecosystems on which they depend throughout the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed. The watershed covers large areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It contains a great diversity of habitats, notably: northern forest valuable as nesting habitat for migrant thrushes, warblers and other birds; rivers and streams used by shad, salmon, herring and other migratory fishes; and an internationally significant complex of high-quality tidal fresh, brackish and salt marshes.

The refuge works in partnership with a wide variety of individuals and organizations to provide environmental education, to encourage and support appropriate habitat conservation and management on public and private lands, and to protect additional habitat.

The refuge has three cooperative visitor centers: in Colebrook, New Hampshire; at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont; and Great Falls Discovery Center near the headquarters in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. The Refuge currently consists of seven Units (small tracts) and two Divisions (large tracts)parcels: 33 acres of wetlands and a riverine sand spit that hosts a federally-listed beetle in Cromwell, Connecticut; a 4 acre island in Deerfield, Massachusetts; 30 acres at the base of Mt. Toby in Sunderland, Massachusetts; an 18 acre upland and wetland parcel in Westfield, Massachusetts; 140 acres on Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts; 20 acres along the river in Greenfield, Massachusetts; 278 acres which host a federally endangered plant in Putney, Vermont; 3,670 acres surrounding the. Audubon Society of NHs Pondicherry Refuge in Jefferson, NH; and 26,000 acres in the Nulhegan Basin in Essex County, Vermont.

Getting There . . .
Driving directions: Headquarters: Take Massachusetts Route 116 north from its intersection with Route 9 in Hadley, Massachusetts. After passing Annie's Garden Center, Bub's Barbeque, and a gas station on the right, take the next road to the right (E. Plumtree Road). Go down the road and turn in at the third building on the right. A large brown sign identifies this building as the Connecticut River Resource Center.

Great Falls Discovery Center: Take Interstate 91to Exit 27 in Massachusetts. Take Route 2 east. Turn right at the second light and cross the bridge. The Discovery Center is in the first building to the right. Headquarters is in the Crocker Building, third building on the right.

Conte Refuge Education Center at the Montshire Museum of Science: In Vermont, take Interstate 91 to Exit 13. Turn toward Hanover, New Hampshire. Look to the right for signs at entrance driveway just past the interstate overpass and exit ramp.

Great North Woods Interpretive Center: From Colebrook, New Hampshire, drive north on Route 3 for 3 miles. The center is on the right.

Nulhegan Basin Division: In Vermont, on Route 105 between Island Pond and Bloomfield. Headquarters is a red building on the north side of the road. Enter refuge roads at Stone Dam Road, also on the north side of the road.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The Connecticut River watershed is a large area, with a great diversity of wildlife habitats and species. Fifty-nine species of mammals live within the watershed, including opposums, shrews, bats, rabbits and hare, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, voles, porcupines, coyotes, foxes, a variety of mustelids, raccoon, bobcats, lynx, black bear white-tailed deer, and moose. Twenty-seven species of ducks, geese and swans, 15 species of shore birds and 24 other water dependent species such as rails, grebes and herons use the watershed for breeding, wintering or migration. The watershed is also host to 181 passerine and raptor species. Of these, 88 are neotropical migrants using the watershed for breeding, 77 are residents breeding and wintering in the watershed, and 16 are winter residents that migrate to the watershed from the north to avoid extremes of cold, deep snow or lack of food during the winter months. Reptiles include nine species of turtles and 16 snakes, and amphibians include 12 salamanders, and seven toads or frogs.

The Connecticut River watershed supports a diversity of fishery resources. Cold, cool and warm- water species are in general abundance throughout the watershed. The watershed did not historically support as diverse a group of fishes as it does presently: many of the species considered resident were introduced. There are 142 fish species found within the watershed. Native or indigenous freshwater species account for 33 fish; nonindigenous freshwater fish, 35; anadromous fish, ten; catadromous fish, one; amphidromous fish, 15; and, saltwater fish, 48.

The northern reaches of the river provide habitat for lake and brook trout and land-locked salmon. The mid-section of the river supports pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern and walleyed pike, and a variety of panfish. Summer flounder and striped bass are found at the mouth of the river. Carp, suckers, eels and catfish are present in many areas. Populations of Atlantic salmon and American shad are gradually being restored to the river.

Invertebrates are the most diverse and abundant group of animals within the watershed. A conservative estimate of the number of described species would be 1,500 (D. Smith personal communication). These range from familiar insects such as butterflies, bees and beetles to more obscure species of invertebrates such as freshwater mussels, clam shrimp and bryozoans.

There are roughly 3,000 plant species in the watershed area; roughly 35% of the plants are not native to the area. Many different plant communities exist, including common types of wetlands, forests, and grasslands, as well as a number of rare communities. Forests are the dominant land cover type and are increasing as abandoned agricultural lands revert to forest cover. Generally, the forests in the northern section of the basin are northern hardwood (maple-beech-birch) at lower elevations and coniferous (spruce-fir) at higher elevations. Stretching southward into Massachusetts, the northern hardwoods are intermixed with red and white pine. An oak-hickory forest predominates in the watershed's lower reaches. Other upland plant communities include grasslands maintained for pastures, hayfields, airports, and closed landfills; shrubby fields which occur as abandoned fields experience plant succession; orchards; and cultivated fields.

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In 1991, Congress passed The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Act (P.L.102-212). The act authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to establish a national fish and wildlife refuge to protect the diversity and abundance of native species within the four-state Connecticut River watershed. The 7.2 million-acre watershed is contained within the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (Conte Refuge) is one of over 538 national wildlife refuges in the United States.

The Refuge was planned with extensive public input. The eventual refuge design was presented as Alternative D in the Conte FEIS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995). It suggested the use of a wide variety of tools to accomplish Refuge purposes. These tools included Service land acquisition, cooperative land acquisition with partners, multiple cooperative education centers, and technical and financial assistance to partners (in the areas of environmental education, research, inventory, and habitat management assistance on state and private lands).

In the FEIS, the Service identified about 180,000 acres of lands and waters that contributed in a substantial way to protecting the diversity of species and natural communities within the Connecticut River watershed, and fulfilling the other purposes listed in the Act. Forty-eight large areas, called Special Focus Areas, made up most of the acreage. "Small, scattered sites" important to conserve a rare species or rare natural community were recognized as another category of land needing protection and attention.

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    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
The refuge provides technical support to improve stewardship and habitat management on lands throughout the watershed. Notable projects have included the Connecticut River songbird stopover habitat survey, cooperation with Natural Resources Conservation Service to target the Wildlife Habitats Incentive Program to important wildlife habitats in the watershed and providing fish passage at small mill dams.

Since invasive species pose a threat to native species across the landscape, with no regard for property boundaries, the refuge is a leader in encouraging invasive species prevention and control in New England. The refuge was responsible for forming the New England Invasive Plant Group, a large consortium of partners dedicated to stopping new invaders into the region. The refuge is a principal partner in a USDA-funded project, the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England,that is mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to document the distribution and extent of invasives in natural habitats and detect new invasions. As an example of how early detection and rapid response can stop the spread of new invasives, the refuge spearheads a partnership to control the aquatic invasive plant water chestnut. The refuge is mobilizing volunteers to search for these plants and hand-pull new, small infestations to prevent the large-scale, expensive eradication projects that would follow firm establishment of this plant in dozens of lakes, coves and marshes.

The refuge is also a key participant and sponsor of the effort to recover the Puritan tiger beetle (federally listed as threatened) in Massachusetts. The refuge supports annual research on movements, reproductive success, and habitat suitability; population augmentation through larval relocation; and outreach to recreational users of the beetle habitat.

The refuge's Nulhegan Basin Division has been used as a study site by researchers looking at Canada warblers, and is involved in creating woodcock habitat as a demonstration area.