(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) this week led seven New England Senators in seeking to double federal conservation funds for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge—a unique refuge dedicated to protecting the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Preservation of the Conte Refuge is critical to the economic vitality and environmental health of the Connecticut River watershed and surrounding region, including environmentally significant land in Old Lyme, Haddam, East Hampton, East Haddam, Lyme, and Cromwell, Connecticut.
Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) representing the four states bordering the preserve joined Senator Blumenthal in sending the funding request to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Greg Sheehan. The letter seeks a total of $3.5 million for Conte Refuge preservation in FY20, double the current $1.75 million allocation.
“The Conte Refuge plays an important role in the economic, recreational, and community vitality of the Connecticut River watershed and surrounding region. As you know, based on FWS research, national Wildlife Refuges generate about $4 in economic activity for every $1 the government invests in them. In New England, outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver, generating more than $39.4 billion in consumer spending and 319,000 jobs across the four watershed states. The Connecticut River watershed is also accessible to a large and diverse group of citizens, with more than 70 million individuals within a day’s drive of the watershed,” the letter states.
“The US Fish and Wildlife Service, through the Conte Refuge, has been a critical partner for many organizations and communities throughout the Connecticut River watershed. We are very grateful to the Senate delegations in all four states who have provided such consistent leadership in ensuring that the Refuge has had the resources to pursue initiatives that enhance this river’s extraordinary resources,” said Kim Lutz, Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut River Program.
In Connecticut, Conte Refuge Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars have protected a total of 740 acres of the Conte Refuge watershed along the Connecticut River, including in this fiscal year:
- Roger Tory Peterson Estuary in Old Lyme received $580,000 for the preservation of 56 acres
- Salmon River Division in Haddam, East Hampton and East Haddam received $5.3 million for preservation of 494 acres
- Whalebone Cove Division received $3 million for preservation of 160 acres
- Quonatuck-Deadman Swamp received $369,000 for preservation of 31 acres
Full text of the letter is copied below.
May 8, 2018
Mr. Greg Sheehan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street Northwest, Room 3358
Washington, D.C. 20240-0001
Dear Acting Director Sheehan:
As United States Senators from the four states encompassing the boundaries of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, we are writing to commend the exceptional conservation work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) with regard to the Silvio Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and its partnership approach across this large watershed-based New England working landscape.
As Fiscal Year (FY19) 2019 LWCF spending levels are solidified and you consider priorities for your FY20 appropriations request, we urge you to request substantially increasing funding over previous fiscal years for Conte Refuge which is a unique and critical refuge. FWS agency staff and non-governmental partner groups in the Friends of Conte coalition have identified over $14 million in projects as current and available priority opportunities within the Refuge for permanent conservation.
The Conte Refuge plays an important role in the economic, recreational, and community vitality of the Connecticut River watershed and surrounding region. As you know, based on FWS research, national Wildlife Refuges generate about $4 in economic activity for every $1 the government invests in them. In New England, outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver, generating more than $39.4 billion in consumer spending and 319,000 jobs across the four watershed states. The Connecticut River watershed is also accessible to a large and diverse group of citizens, with more than 70 million individuals within a day’s drive of the watershed.
The Conte Refuge also presents a unique opportunity to leverage and integrate Federal and non-federal funding opportunities because of the many local, state, federal, and private sector partnerships in this watershed. Members of the land trust community throughout the watershed routinely assist the Refuge in identifying potential properties, working with landowners toward federal ownership, and securing funds from other sources, thereby lowering staff time and costs to FWS. These land trusts have also added a combined total of more than 350,000 acres of conservation across the watershed.
There are also numerous federal, state, university, and non-governmental partners working to further habitat restoration, scientific research, and community outreach in the refuge. These partners are contributing to the knowledge base so that better conservation decisions can be made. For example, partners are working with FWS and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on restoration projects, such as dam removals, culvert replacements, stream flow enhancements, and floodplain restoration. Not only are these actions and associated lessons-learned good for the environment; they are good for the economy. In a recent Massachusetts study, it was determined that the average economic output of a restoration project generated a 75% return on investment and creates or maintains 12.5 full-time-equivalent jobs for every $1 million spent.
As such, we urge you to recommend strong funding of at least $3.5 million for the Conte Refuge in the FY20 budget to enable permanent conservation of high priority lands in the Refuge that are currently available and at risk. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to working with you during the appropriations process.