Dear CRWC Member:

The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge—spanning the entire four-state Connecticut River watershed—is currently developing its first Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).The CCP will establish management goals and objectives for the Refuge’s wildlife management, habitat protection, education, and public use programs for the next 15 years.Inadequate staffing and the Refuge’s broad geographic range mean that your participation is vital to ensure the Conte Refuge stays focused on protecting river habitat. Please participate by (1) attending one of the public meetings planned; (2) submitting a comment letter; or (3) contributing to CRWC so that we can continue our work on this issue.

What is at stake: The Conte Refuge contains globally important wetlands, is a high priority flyway for many migratory bird species, and is home to hundreds of rare and endangered species.

CRWC Comments on the CCP: The Connecticut River Watershed Council has a long history of working in partnership with the Refuge.We helped organize public participation when the Refuge was originally proposed and donated the land which formally established the Refuge in 1997.We continue to see the great opportunities this Refuge presents to our region.

While CRWC is a strong supporter of the Refuge and its programs, we have serious concerns that the current CCP alternatives do not adequately protect the long term quality of fisheries habitat in the Connecticut River watershed.Specifically, there are eleven special focus areas from the 1995 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that are not currently part of the new proposed divisions.These include rivers identified by the EIS as high priority focus areas, such as the White River (VT), Ammonoosuc River (NH), Deerfield River (MA), and the Farmington River (CT).The CCP should identify how fisheries habitat will be preserved in the special focus areas identified in the 1995 EIS with particular attention given to water quality, riparian buffers, and fish passage.Additionally, if a special focus area identified in the 1995 EIS is not included in the new CCP, a biological basis should be given to justify its exclusion.

CRWC is concerned that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s “Stay Strong” initiative is a “Stay Weak” mandate for the Conte Refuge.To deal with shrinking budgets, the Service has prioritized a handful of Refuges at the expense of others, including the Conte Refuge.This has resulted in the loss of three key positions at the Conte Refuge: a Deputy Refuge Manager, Deputy Project Leader and a Biologist.The loss of 25% of the Conte Refuge employees will significantly reduce the Refuge’s ability to protect the watershed’s threatened terrestrial and aquatic species.At a minimum, these three key positions should be funded.

The Conte Refuge’s geographic scope and legislative emphasis on education, outreach, and partnership require the Refuge to work cooperatively with others to achieve its potential. CRWC urges the Refuge to be a catalytic leader by convening stakeholders, providing research and information guidance, and providing conservation leadership across state boundaries.For example, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut have each developed Wildlife Action Plans that identify species at risk and prioritize conservation strategies for their protection.Conte Refuge staff should work with the states and other stakeholders to implement collaborative projects that help achieve the shared objectives of the Wildlife Action Plans and the Refuge.

The CCP should also take into account global warming impacts on riverine systems throughout the Connecticut River watershed.CRWC urges the Conte Refuge to be a leader in developing regional strategies to counter the effects of climate change on our native fish, macroinvertebrates and other aquatic species.

MEETING DATES AND LOCATIONS *

Dec. 10: Norwich, VT, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Montshire Museum

Dec. 11: Winchester, NH, 7-9 p.m. Town Hall

Dec. 12: Brattleboro, VT, 7-9 p.m. Marlboro College Graduate Center

Dec. 17: Colebrook, NH, 7-9 p.m. Colebrook Library

Dec. 18: Island Pond, VT, 7-9 p.m. Brighton Pond Elementary

Dec. 19: Jefferson, NH, 7-9 p.m. Town Hall

Dec. 20: St. Johnsbury, VT, 7-9 p.m. St. Johnsbury School

Jan. 8: Hadley, MA, 7-9 p.m., FWS Regional Office

Jan. 10: Chesterfield, MA, 7-9 p.m., Senior Center

Jan. 14: Middletown, CT, 7-9 p.m., Wesleyan College Science Hall

Jan. 16: Burlington, CT, 7-9 p.m., CTDEP Sessions Woods

Jan. 17: Old Lyme, CT, 7-9 p.m., CTDEP Marine Headquarters

*On the day of the meeting, in case of inclement weather, you can check the status of the meeting by calling 877-289-8495 ext. 8565.

Send a letter:

If you are unable to attend one of the public meetings, you may submit a comment letter to the following address:

Bill Perry, Refuge Planner,

Northeast Regional Office

300 Westgate Center Drive

Hadley, MA 01035

For more information: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/Conte/ccphome.html

To donate to CRWC: http://www.ctriver.org/donate.html

————————————————————–

Chelsea Reiff Gwyther

Executive Director

Connecticut River Watershed Council

15 Bank Row, Greenfield, MA  01301

p (413) 772-2020 ext 202 — f (413) 772-2090

cgwyther@ctriver.org www.ctriver.org