The Great River

OCTOBER 2008 — Some wonder why the Connecticut River Watershed Council, other organizations and individuals make such a fuss about bad things happening to the Connecticut River and its tributaries. That pride those of us living here have about the river is not only a statement about our sense of place but we value the natural wonders of the river itself. Those who feel that some of us are myopic in our view of the river should realize that it’s not just us locals who think the Connecticut River watershed is special and important.

There is a clear national recognition of the value of the river inherent in the formation of the Conte Refuge. The Refuge was put in place because of the ecological value of the entire four state watershed. This unusual designation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service makes the Conte Refuge the only national refuge designated to protect the flora and fauna of an entire watershed and one of just a handful of refuges in the nation that has fisheries protection as a key mandate.

It is a matter of organizational pride that in 1997 the Connecticut River Watershed Council donated Third Island in the main river at Deerfield, MA to formally establish the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

The Refuge was established is “to conserve, protect, and enhance the Connecticut River valley populations of Atlantic salmon, American shad, river herring, shortnosed sturgeon, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, black ducks, and other native species of plants, fish, and wildlife” andto conserve, protect and enhance the natural diversity and abundance of plant, fish and wildlife species and the ecosystems upon which these species depend within the refuge.”

Unfortunately the goals are written in legalize but it is clear from the mandate that the river and its watershed is of high value because of the fish and bird species that live here and that the river has importance to our entire nation.

With CRWC in the lead the people, communities, businesses, elected and appointed leaders of the Connecticut River Valley in all 4 states nominated the Connecticut River as an American Heritage River. The nomination was an expression of pride in the river’s quality and its importance to our economies and our quality of life. The Connecticut is one of only 14 presidentially-designated American Heritage Rivers in the U.S., an acknowledgment that its rich heritage, ecological importance and natural diversity have national significance.

The watershed is recognized not only for fish habitat and species. The Ramsar Convention designation of the estuary reach of the river as Wetlands of International Significance reflects how important the Connecticut River estuary and wetlands are for providing habitat for water birds. The official name of this international United Nations’ treaty is The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. This international treaty recognizes wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity in general but for the well-being of human communities as well.

The Connecticut River designated reach of river includes fresh water, salt and brackish tidal wetlands, floodplains, river islands, beaches, and dunes. The system serves as essential habitat for numerous regionally, nationally, and globally rare or significant species. Many migratory and Neotropical bird species nest or winter in the marshes, which regularly support over 10,000 individuals, consisting of 18 species of waterfowl.

Up river the Vermont and New Hampshire Audubon chapters have designated several Important Bird Areas (IBAs) within the watershed.

Herrick’s Cove Rockingham, VT is the river delta formed at the confluence of the Williams and Connecticut Rivers. The Cove is a migratory stopover for more than 220 species with a large diversity of migratory land birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. In addition to its state designation Herricks Cove has been designated as a birding site of national importance by the national Audubon Society.

Nulhegan Basin Essex County, VT offers extensive boreal habitat with associated forests and wetlands Breeding location for state endangered and rare species include; Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker and Gray Jay.

Victory Bog Basin Victory, VT offers extensive boreal habitat with associated forests and wetlands with breeding locations for rare and priority species including: Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee.

The Lower Connecticut Valley VT/NH from the Massachusetts border north to the vicinity of Claremont, NH, and encompasses habitat on both sides of the river. The area is used by a wide variety of waterfowl in migration and winter and supports two nesting pairs of Bald Eagles.

Pondicherry Jefferson, NH is a low elevation wetland complex. Bird species include: American black duck, American woodcock, northern harrier, olive sided flycatcher, marsh wren and the rusty blackbird.

West Slopes of the White Mountain National Forest NH all elevations between 2500 and 5000 feet includes subalpine conifer habitat, limited areas of alpine habitat and a number of cliff faces. Bird species include: Spruce grouse, three toed woodpecker, Peregrine falcon, yellow bellied flycatcher and Bicknell’s thrush, Swainsons thrush and the blackpoll warbler.

So when looked at in a rigorous way even experts agree that the Connecticut River is a natural wonder. Some places have Great Lakes, we have a Great River.

David Deen is River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRWC has been an articulate voice for the Connecticut River for more than half a century.