Comprising more than 36,000 acres across four New England States, the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was authorized by Congress in 1991 and officially established in 1997 to conserve the 7.2 million acres of forests, wetlands, wildlife, and fish habitat in the watershed of the 410-mile-long Connecticut River.
To help stay on that task and protect the species that call Conte home—from resident and migratory birds and fish to moose, deer, and bear to endangered plants such as Jessup’s milkvetch, found nowhere else on Earth—U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials are pursuing what’s known as a Comprehensive Conservation Plan. The agency is accepting public comments on the plan, which will guide management of the refuge for the next 15 years, through November 16.
A draft of the plan, along with its corresponding Draft Environmental Impact Statement (CCP/ DEIS), is available for review on the USFWS website. The public can mail or e-mail comments, or speak in person at public hearings scheduled for early November in each of the four states in which the refuge lies: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.
USFWS has presented several options, including Alternative A, which would maintain the status quo; Alternative B, which would prioritize USFWS work with partners in 14 key areas; and Alternative D, which would reduce active habitat management, offering “a more ‘backcountry’ recreational experience.” USFWS’s preferred plan of action is Alternative C, which would increase public recreation and habitat- management activities on refuge lands, nearly doubling the number of acres USFWS would be authorized to acquire, from the current level of 97,830 acres to 197,296 acres.
Future land acquisitions likely would be supported by such programs as the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund or, if reauthorized by Congress, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). USFWS has a track record of acquiring lands from willing sellers.
“The Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is a tremendous natural treasure that benefits a multitude of species, landscapes, and communities, and we are committed to helping ensure the continued conservation of these critical resources,” says Heather Clish, AMC’s director of conservation and recreation policy. “Adoption of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan is an important step, and AMC would support the broader conservation and recreation opportunities that Alternative C would provide. We encourage AMC members to become involved in the process and share their thoughts on how they would like to see the Conte refuge managed over the next decade and beyond.”
AMC was a founding member of Friends of the Conte and has long advocated for LWCF support for the refuge— one of AMC’s organizational conservation priorities for 2016. Clish says President Obama’s budget includes $2 million for the refuge in fiscal year 2016.
The refuge name was adopted by Congress to honor late U.S. Congressman Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), a strong advocate for restoration and conservation of the Connecticut River. He served Massachusetts’ First District from January 1959 until his death, in February 1991.
Click here to find dates and locations of the November hearings, as well as details on how to submit public comments.