Unique Watershed Wildlife Refuge Expansion Needs Support

A 37,000-acre wildlife refuge stretching from New Hampshire to Connecticut that is home to bears, coyotes and hundreds of other species, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And there was other celebratory news. The area, known as the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, was set for a major expansion, with a federal plan to purchase almost 200,000 additional acres.

But the plan has met challenges from governors in New Hampshire and Vermont who each separately wrote the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressing concerns about the expansion effort. 

The refuge, named after U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte, a Republican from Massachusetts, was established in 1997 and runs along the Connecticut River Watershed through Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is home to more than half a dozen endangered species, 300 rare species and numerous fish and animals.

The management plan calls for adding 60,000 acres of land in Vermont and 47,000 in New Hampshire. But despite the approval of the plan which was ten years in the making, New Hampshire Governor Christopher Sununu and Vermont Governor Philip Scott, both Republicans, are pushing back.

In a September letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Scott said he was concerned the purchase of additional tracts would put pressure on logging and farming interests. Sununu wrote that he’d prefer conservation easements rather than purchases of private land. But Andrew French, project leader for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Conte management plan, has said that the refuge is unique in that it is the only watershed-based system and that by offering to purchase land, the agency is providing more opportunities for property owners in the region.

Vermont, where wildlife watching has brought $1.9 billion to the state, has actually seen a decline in forest acreage for the first time in 100 years. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to purchase tracts to expand the refuge is important to protect open space for hundreds of species.

Call Governors Sununu and Scott and tell them they should be pushing back against special interests that seek to utilize the land for economic gain at the expense of wildlife. Gov. Sununu can be reached at 603 271-2121 or by email here. Gov. Scott can be reached at 802 828-333 or by email here.