24 Acres Added to Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver and U.S. Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown joined The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and The Kestrel Trust (KT) in announcing a conservation addition of 24 acres to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Hadley.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation has been a strong supporter of this project and worked to secure $825,000 in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to protect the property, which was also a high priority for the USFWS’s Conte Refuge.

The property, which is located on Moody Bridge Road, is a mix of agricultural fields and forest with frontage on the Fort River, and marks The Fort River Partnership’s fourth addition to the Fort River division of the Conte refuge. TPL, with assistance from the Town, KT and other members of the Fort River Partnership, helped the USFWS acquire the first three properties for the Fort River Division in 2005, 2008, and 2009. The most recent acquisition, sold by Frank Drozdal, had been privately owned. The property will now be managed for wildlife. Plans are underway to open it to the public, providing parking, trails and educational exhibits.

“We are proud to have worked on our fourth project in Massachusetts for the Conte Refuge, conserving the character of the valley and the natural habitat resources in New England’s largest watershed,” said Clem Clay, TPL’s Connecticut River Program director. “We are very grateful to our partners, the USFWS, and the congressional delegation for their support of this project. Without the important Land and Water Conservation Fund, these lands could have been lost forever.”

“Expanding the Conte Refuge will help keep this pristine area safe from encroachment and keep it accessible to those in Massachusetts who get to enjoy it for generations to come,” said Senator John Kerry.

“I am pleased that we have secured this critical addition to the Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge,” said Senator Brown. “Acquiring this property will permit public access for the first time, allowing future generations to enjoy its natural beauty and participate in its permanent conservation.”

“The Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge is a model for America’s conservation efforts and I am pleased to lend my support once again with my congressional colleagues to secure the newest acquisition in Hadley as part of the Fort River Division,” said Congressman Neal. “Massachusetts citizens and visitors alike will enjoy these natural treasures for generations.”

“Acquisition of this land will help to protect the rare and declining species that live in these fields. I am happy to have been able to work with Congressman Neal, and Senators Kerry and Brown, to secure the funds necessary to preserve this valuable resource while it is still available to be protected,” said Congressman Olver.

The Fort River is the longest free-flowing tributary of the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, providing important habitat for fish, federally endangered dwarf wedgemussels and other rare species. The Fort River division is in the viewshed of the Mount Holyoke Range and contains prime habitat for grassland birds such as the bobolink and grasshopper sparrow. The Conte refuge protects prime fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Connecticut River watershed in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“The Kestrel Trust was pleased to help this landowner realize his goal of conserving land, which has been in his family for decades. In conversations with Mr. Drozdal over the years, it was always clear how much he loves this area of Hadley,” said Kristin DeBoer, Executive Director of The Kestrel Trust, the local land trust which has been protecting farmland and forestland in the Valley since 1970. “The success of land conservation depends on the willingness and patience of landowners who want to conserve their land for future generations.”

“The recent addition to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte Refuge is yet another example of a true conservation partnership that is made possible by the commitment and efforts by public agencies, conservation organizations, elected officials, and landowners,” said Andrew French, Project Leader of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. “The protection of the Drozdal property will improve our ability provide opportunities in the community for compatible recreation and evaluate the feasibility and merits of establishing an accessible interpretive nature trail that could include kiosks, wayside panels, and overlooks.”

“The Fort River Partnership is an outstanding example of how a community of public and private interests can come together to conserve natural places for the future. These acquisitions allow the Conte Refuge to participate in the larger land protection partnership that extends from the Holyoke Range to the Connecticut River,” said Tony L?ger, Northeast Regional Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Service’s regional headquarters is located about a mile from the refuge’s Fort River Division in Hadley and serves 13 states from Maine south to Virginia.

Congress created the LWCF in 1965 to reinvest revenue from offshore oil and gas royalties – rather than use taxpayer dollars – to fund the protection land and water resources, ensuring outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans to enjoy. The LWCF program is authorized to receive up to $900 million each year. However, in the program’s 45-year history, that level of funding has been reached only once. TPL, KT, and other groups, including many in Massachusetts, are advocating for legislation to fully fund the LWCF this year and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation has expressed its support for the effort. In the House, Representatives Olver and Neal voted in July 2010 for energy legislation that included full funding of LWCF. In the Senate, Senator Kerry is a cosponsor of a bill that would fully fund LWCF and Senator Brown has indicated his support of LWCF in a letter to Senate leadership.

In addition to important conservation efforts at the Conte Refuge, LWCF have helped to protect important lands at Minuteman National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore and Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, and many other local, state and federal recreation lands in Massachusetts.

David Nixon, Hadley Town Administrator, said “Preserving land is consistent with the sustainability goals outlined in our Master Plan, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to use a variety of state and federal funding sources, as well as local Community Preservation Act and other conservation funds, so that landowners’ needs can be met while also achieving public benefits.”

The Town of Hadley committed $9,000 from its “Woodchuck Fund” to assist with project costs.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professional and commitment to public service. For more information about our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped to protect more than 2.8 million acres nationwide, including nearly 13,000 acres in Massachusetts and more than 170,000 acres throughout the Connecticut River watershed. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and business to achieve its land for people mission.

The Kestrel Trust recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as a regional land trust dedicated to conserving farmland and forestland in the towns of Amherst, Belchertown, Granby, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury, Sunderland, and South Hadley, Other current projects include the acquisition and protection of 300 acres at Holland Glen in partnership with the Belchertown Conservation Commission and the purchase of an APR on 100-acre McCray Farm in partnership with South Hadley’s Conservation Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.