Event Celebrates Fort River Protection Effort (MA)

Hadley, Massachusetts, 6/02/2008: U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal and John Olver joined The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Valley Land Fund, the Kestrel Trust, and other partners at a celebration to commemorate the conservation of 82 acres of scenic grassland bird habitat along the Fort River in Hadley.

The event was held on the property, now protected as part of the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation were strong supporters of this project and secured $2 million in federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect the property.

At the event Rep. Neal said, “Preserving and protecting our natural resources in western Massachusetts has always been a priority of mine. That is why I applaud the efforts of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge today. Their good work will ensure that this pristine land will be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Rep. Olver, a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and a longtime supporter of the Refuge, said, “I am very pleased to see this land added to the Refuge. In light of current development pressures in the Connecticut River watershed, it is increasingly important that we preserve the most critically sensitive ecosystems within the Connect River Valley.”

“The Silvio Conte Refuge is one of Massachusetts’ natural treasures and we need to protect it from the threat of overdevelopment,” U.S. Senator John Kerry said. “Adding 82 more acres to the refuge is great news for everyone who appreciates such a beautiful escape from days filled with traffic jams. I commend The Trust for Public Land, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Valley Land Fund, the Kestrel Trust, and all involved in helping protect and preserve the Conte Refuge.”

This addition to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge marks another 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 Valley. TPL and land trust and agency partners are continuing on the success celebrated today by working to negotiate additional agreements that will further protect the Fort River landscape, from the Norwottuck Rail Trail south to the Mount Holoke Range and west to the Connecticut River. Advocates are optimistic that several additional farmland and habitat protection projects will completed in the next few years, thanks in large part to the commitment of landowners to leaving a legacy of conservation for future generations.

Clem Clay, Connecticut River Program director for The Trust for Public Land, said “We are proud to work with partners and landowners to help the Conte Refuge achieve the promise of both conserving important habitat in New England’s largest watershed and enhancing quality of life close to home by providing new education and access opportunities for our children. We are very grateful to our congressional delegation for their longstanding commitment to conservation and their strong support to protect critical lands for the refuge.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would not have been able to add this land to the National Wildlife Refuge System without the support of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and The Trust for Public Land. It will forever remain a protected natural area for fish, wildlife and people,” said Marvin Moriarty, northeast regional director for the Service.

Kristin DeBoer, Executive Director of the Kestrel Trust and a founding member of the Fort River Partnership said, “Local land trusts and town residents have been concerned about protecting this beautiful land for decades. Now we are incredibly encouraged to see national agencies and non-profits like USFWS and TPL make an investment to protect one of Hadley’s most ecologically significant natural areas. Over the past several years, Valley Land Fund, Franklin Land Trust, Kestrel Trust, as well as town, state and federal agencies, have joined together in the Fort River Partnership to build our capacity and financial resources to prevent this area from imminent threats of development. Together, we can ensure that the best grasslands and farmland are preserved forever.”

The 82-acre property contains several thousand feet of frontage along the Fort River, and prime nesting habitat for rare grassland birds. 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.

Gerald Devine, chairman of the Hadley Board of Selectmen, said “The residents of Hadley have stated loud and clear through the Long Range Strategic Plan that protecting farmland and water quality are top priorities. The Town supports the Conte Refuge’s efforts to conserve land in this area because we understand what an important contribution they can make to complementing farmland protection efforts, protecting the quality of drinking water at the Callahan Well, and maintaining the scenic integrity of this unique landscape.”

Rep. John Scibak of the Second Hampshire District said, “This project represents a true collaboration of agencies and stakeholders to expand the Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and preserve an additional 82 acres of critical habitat in the Pioneer Valley. The significance of this effort is immediately apparent to anyone who travels along this stretch of Moody Bridge Road, and it is reassuring to know that future generations will have the opportunity to experience and appreciate what this parcel has to offer.”

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.

Photos of the property are available by request. To receive images, please contact Kim Gilman at The Trust for Public Land, 617-367-6200 or kim.gilman@tpl.org