US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposal to conserve NH land

Over the past century, many shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests.

As this habitat has disappeared from much of the landscape, the populations of more than 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have fallen alarmingly.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies, private landowners and dozens of conservation organizations have responded to this urgency by restoring and protecting shrublands and young forest throughout the landscape of New England and New York. Despite significant progress, conservationists have determined that more permanently protected and managed land is needed to restore wildlife populations and return balance to northeast woodlands.

To address this need, the service is proposing to establish Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge – dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife to benefit New Hampshire residents and visitors. Through coordination with conservation partners, the service has determined that areas of Strafford, Rockingham and Hillsborough counties could provide important habitat for shrubland wildlife and help connect existing conservation areas. Additionally, the agency identified nine areas in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.

"This proposal was developed through extensive coordination with our conservation partners, and would enhance our ongoing commitment to conserve species like the New England cottontail, monarch butterfly and American woodcock that rely on shrublands and young forest," said refuge manager Bill Peterson, of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Rowley, Mass.

"Stakeholder input will be critical to ensuring we direct our conservation efforts where they can make the most difference for wildlife and local communities."

"We’ve had incredible success in restoring New England’s only native rabbit and its habitat. Yet our work is far from done," said Rick Jacobson, New England Cottontail Executive Committee chairman and Connecticut Department of Environmental and Energy Protection Wildlife Division Director.

"We need to preserve and manage more land as shrublands and young forest to continue to advance conservation for the cottontail. But this isn’t just about a rabbit. It’s about American woodcock, ruffed grouse, golden-winged warblers, monarch butterflies and a whole suite of wildlife that depend on this habitat."

Other wildlife that would benefit include Blanding’s turtle, whippoorwill, Karner blue butterflies and blue-winged warblers.

A land protection plan and environmental assessment is an early step in a public process that examines whether the service can establish a national wildlife refuge. The draft Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge Land Protection Plan explains the need for land conservation, complements existing conservation activities, and describes each of the 10 focus areas across the six states. At this stage in the process, the service invites public comment on the draft plan, which will shape the final decision. The service will accept comments through Friday, March 4, by:

? Email: northeastplanning@fws.gov with "Great Thicket LPP" in the subject line.

? Mail to Beth Goldstein, Natural Resources Planner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035-9589.

? Fax to 1-413-253-8480.

The draft plan and all related documents are available at www.fws.gov/northeast/refuges/planning/lpp/greatthicketLPP.html.