Celebration Marks Addition of 67 Acres to NWR in Hadley, MA

HADLEY, MA, 10/5/2009: U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver joined The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Town of Hadley, the Kestrel Trust, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and other partners at a project celebration to commemorate the conservation of 67 acres of grassland bird habitat along the Fort River in Hadley.

The event was held on the conserved property, now part of the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The land, a former equestrian facility, was previously owned by Martha Zuckerman and was approved for a 43-unit subdivision development plan. Permanent protection of the property ensures the land will instead provide important habitat benefits and public access for generations to come.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation have been strong supporters of this project and worked to secure $2.1 million in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect the property, which was a high priority for the USFWS.

“Protecting and conserving the Connecticut River Valley watershed and its native habitat is part of the mission statement of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The preservation of the 67 acres along the Fort River is another example of the efforts being made on a local level to manage our valuable natural resources. I am very pleased that this pristine and scenic property is now safeguarded for generations to come. As we celebrate the Town of Hadley’s 350th anniversary, today’s announcement is a reminder of the many contributions this community makes each day to the quality of life in western Massachusetts,” said Congressman Neal.

Rep. Olver, a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and a longtime supporter of the Conte Refuge said, “With roughly two and a half million people in the Connecticut River watershed, it is a constant challenge to protect the Valley’s resources. Every day, beautiful property like this is consumed by development and commercial sprawl. The addition of these parcels to the Refuge’s Fort River Division will ensure that we maintain a viable land base to safeguard the Valley’s sensitive ecosystem.”

“We owe a big thank you to everyone who has worked to protect our region’s most treasured natural habitats for future generations to enjoy,” said U.S. Senator John Kerry.

TPL and other members of the Fort River Partnership worked closely with the landowner and the community to integrate the Zuckerman property into a broader conservation strategy to expand the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge while also protecting productive farmland nearby. With strong support from Congress, TPL helped USFWS acquire the first two properties in the Fort River Division in 2005 and 2008, one of which abuts the Zuckerman property. The Zuckerman addition marks an important conservation success at the refuge, for TPL’s Connecticut River Program, and for the local partnership dedicated to conserving this unique landscape in the heart of the Pioneer Valley.

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

“Every October, we celebrate our public lands set aside for wildlife and people during National Wildlife Refuge Week. 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,” said Tony L?ger, Northeast Regional Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. L?ger noted that the Zuckerman tract is located just a mile or so from the Service’s Northeast Region headquarters in Hadley. That office serves 13 states from Maine south to Virginia.

“Without the efforts of The Trust for Public Land and the support of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and the conservation community, the investment of the Zuckerman property in the conservation estate would not have been possible. It is my hope that all involved will feel a strong sense of accomplishment and pride when they reflect on the addition of the 67 acres to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge for plant, fish, wildlife, and the compatible use and enjoyment by people.” said Andrew C. French, Project Leader for the Silvio O. Conte Refuge.

TPL, the local land trust, and agency partners are building on today’s success by working to negotiate additional agreements that will further protect the Fort River landscape, from the Norwottuck Rail Trail to the Mount Holoke Range and west to the Connecticut River. Advocates are optimistic that additional farmland and habitat protection projects will be completed in the years ahead, thanks in large part to landowners who are committed to a conservation legacy that many future generations will enjoy.

Gloria DiFulvio, a member of the Hadley Board of Selectmen said, “The Town of Hadley understands that maintaining rural landscapes provides practical economic, social, recreational, and cultural benefits for the community. Preserving land is consistent with our sustainability goals as outlined in our Master Plan, and we feel certain that future generations will regard our efforts today as wise stewardship, worthy of emulation.”

The Zuckerman parcel was the subject of wetlands penalties assessed in 2005 that were settled in June of 2009, clearing the way for the Refuge purchase. “I am pleased with this creative settlement because it reflects one of MassDEP’s compliance assurance goals – achieving real environmental results,” MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt said. “The benefits to the community and the environment are far-reaching and go well beyond penalty collection. The final outcome results in the protection of wetlands and the preservation of open spaces for the future.”

Judith Eiseman, board chair of the Kestrel Trust and a founding member of the Fort River Partnership said, “This happy ending was a long time coming. The town and the land protection community have been worried about this property for over a decade and Kestrel was delighted to be in a position to help the Trust for Public Land make this conservation purchase. By pulling together, we’ve avoided a development scheme that would have ruined this gorgeous area at the heart of the Valley.”

The 66-acre property includes three-quarters of a mile of frontage along the Fort River, and prime nesting habitat for rare grassland birds such as the bobolink, which is regularly seen in June. In the future, the Fort River Division may host the rare Upland Sandpiper, which needs 200 acres of continuous grasslands for nesting. This recent acquisition marks the 175th acre in the Division.

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 refuge protects prime fish and wildlife habitat in the Connecticut River watershed in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created by Congress in 1965 to reinvest revenue from offshore oil and gas royalties into protecting America’s natural, cultural, and recreational heritage by acquiring land to ensure that all Americans have access to quality outdoor recreation and our unique history.

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 2.3 million acres nationwide, including nearly 12,000 acres in Massachusetts and over 170,000 acres in Connecticut River watershed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and business to achieve its land for people mission.