June 25, 2022

Friends of the Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge Honored; 66 Acres Added to Refuge This Year in Lyme

Aerial view of the Connecticut River.

Aerial view of the Connecticut River.

A coalition dedicated to the well-being of New England’s iconic Connecticut River and its watershed has been recognized with a prestigious national land protection award.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Realty has awarded its 2013 National Land Protection Award to the Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, a partnership of more than 50 local, regional and national organizations from across the river’s four-state watershed.

The Conte Refuge was established in 1997 to conserve the abundance and diversity of native plants and animals and their habitats in the 7.2-million-acre Connecticut River watershed in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. It is the only national wildlife refuge dedicated to a river’s entire watershed.

“The Friends of Conte is an example of how successful conservation through land acquisition is accomplished in this current age,” said A. Eric Alvarez, Chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Realty. “The group’s partnership with the Service is what has made the Conte Refuge what it is today.”

Andrew French, project leader for the Conte Refuge, said the Friends of Conte has played a crucial role in supporting the vision of Massachusetts Congressman Silvio O. Conte, for whom it was named.

“Congressman Conte spoke about having his children and grandchildren continue to enjoy the outdoors as he had, and the work of the Friends of Conte has been instrumental to many achievements, contributing toward that vision,” French said. “Their work continues to demonstrate their incredible collaborative approach and ability to integrate conservation actions into recreation, education and economic opportunities sustaining a large and healthy working landscape.”

The Friends of Conte is a diverse coalition of organizations that works to support the recreation, education and conservation work of the Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The Nature ConservancyThe Trust for Public Land and Audubon Connecticut are among the coalition’s members.

“The Friends of Conte are honored to have had the opportunity to help protect habitat in this great watershed and for this great Refuge,” said Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Connecticut and President and former Chair of the Friends of Conte for four years ending in November 2013.  “Conserving the amazing places that make this watershed so special will benefit all of the more than 2 million residents of the watershed and also help to protect the water quality of the Long Island Sound estuary.”

The National Land Protection Award is given annually to private citizens, groups, organizations, corporations, public agencies and their employees, or volunteers outside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their significant contributions to land protection in partnership with the Service.

Since 1997, partners have helped protect more than 35,700 acres that are administered by the Conte Refuge. The Friends of Conte has been supporting this work since it was founded in 2005.

The collaboration between the Friends of Conte and the Conte Refuge is also one of the key reasons the Connecticut River Watershed was designated as the United States’ first National Blueway in 2012.  The National Blueways System recognizes stakeholder partnerships, working watershed-wide to promote recreation, education, conservation and sustainable economies.

“This award is much-appreciated recognition for the many, many people, organizations and agencies that, for decades, have remained committed to the betterment of watershed,” said Kim Lutz, Chair of the Friends of Conte and Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut River Program. “Working together, we’ve achieved a great deal and can—and must—achieve a great deal more.”

This year, the Conservancy worked with the Service to add 66 acres of tidal marsh and coastal lands along Whalebone Cove in Lyme, Conn., to the Refuge’s protected area. In Massachusetts, this year, the Conservancy partnered with the Service to protect 125 acres in the Westfield River watershed, which is part of the larger Connecticut River system.

“The Trust for Public Land is honored to have helped complete the body of conservation work that led to this award,” said Clem Clay, Connecticut River Program Director for The Trust for Public Land. “The Fish and Wildlife Service appreciates our assistance and makes the process of partnering with a federal agency as painless as possible.”

The Trust for Public Land, the 2012 recipient of the same award, has partnered with the Service on Conte Refuge acquisitions valued at over $6 million and served as a leader in the Friends of Conte since its inception.

Clay commented that it is particularly gratifying to see that with its land purchases, the Service is not only protecting critical habitat, but also welcoming visitors and providing new recreational opportunities, including a wheelchair-accessible trail under construction in Hadley, Mass.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Realty has given the National Land Protection Award since 2001.

This year’s award was presented this fall at the annual Land Trust Rally in New Orleans.  The Land Trust Rally is the largest gathering of organizations dedicated to land conservation in the country, attended by hundreds of organizations and more than 1,500 individuals.

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org/connecticut.

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 professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Operating from more than 30 offices nationwide, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. Visit The Trust for Public Land online at www.tpl.org.

Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education, and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world. Visit Audubon online at www.audubon.org.


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