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Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge

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Turners Falls, Massachusetts

The Act

In 1991, President Bush signed the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Act. The law charged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with studying the entire 7.2-million-acre Connecticut River watershed and creating a new national fish and wildlife refuge. The Act is named in memory of the late Massachusetts Congressman Silvio O. Conte who dreamed of protecting the Connecticut River for future generations.

The purposes of the refuge are to:

Part of the system...

The Conte Refuge will join more than 500 other refuges in the 92-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, an unparalleled network of land and water protecting the natural diversity of plants, fish and wildlife across the nation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the System as part of its mission to conserve, protect and enhance the nation's fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of people.

But different!

The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is no ordinary refuge! The watershed is larger and more heavily populated than areas usually considered when creating a refuge. The purposes of the refuge are also much broader than usual. The Conte refuge is one of the few fish and wildlife refuges, and protecting natural diversity is a new scientific and social challenge.

Recognizing that a new challenge requires a new approach, the Conte refuge staff will involve the people of the watershed, especially landowners and land managers, in environmental education programs and cooperative management projects. The Conte refuge may become the model for refuges of the future.

Designing the refuge

Conte refuge planners listened to thousands of watershed residents to gather ideas and see what solutions would work. In the Yankee tradition, the people of the watershed were proud of their past land stewardship and were anxious to undertake future challenges themselves. Instead of passively stepping aside and letting someone else meet the challenge, the residents asked for help to do the job.

And biology...

Conte planners also gathered all the biological information they could and assembled it in a geographic information system. This computerized approach allowed them to see the watershed-wide view and more easily analyze data. They found that species are being lost, and more habitat protection and management are necessary to stop the loss of natural diversity.

Biologists identified about 180,000 acres of "special focus areas," which contribute substantially or in unique ways supporting natural diversity in the watershed, as well as many small, scattered sites of critical importance to individual rare species.

Getting the job done
The work

To protect natural diversity in the watershed, the refuge will support:

The partners

To multiply and broaden the refuge's effectiveness, refuge staff will work cooperatively with private landowners, federal, state, regional and local agencies, and other organizations to benefit the watershed's wildlife habitat and populations.

Providing help

The refuge staff will provide technical and financial support for local solutions that will contribute to protecting natural diversity. Priority will be given to actions affecting special focus areas and small scattered sites. However, many efforts, especially environmental education projects, will benefit the whole watershed.

The Conte refuge encourages landowners to use the Service's Partners for Wildlife program, which provides funds and technical assistance to help restore habitat. The Conte refuge goal is to restore 3,300 acres of wetlands, 900 acres of uplands and 2,545 acres of streambank habitat during the next 15 years.

The Conte refuge will provide funds through the Service's challenge cost-share program to support management, research, inventory, and education projects. Matching funds are awarded through a competitive process. The goal is to fund 50 projects each year.

The traditional refuge approach of only purchasing land will not work well in the Connecticut River watershed. The scattered focus areas, the large numbers of acres, the high cost per acre, and the mix of existing private and public ownership argues against the traditional land protection approach. Instead, the refuge will cost-share with groups to protect land within the special focus areas or the small scattered sites.

Let's work together!

Anyone can participate in the Service's volunteer program. Volunteers do all types of work, outdoors and indoors, helping the Service accomplish its mission of protecting fish and wildlife.

Become a volunteer for the Conte refuge and contribute to the work of protecting natural diversity in the Connecticut River watershed.

We have projects ready for you.

This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1996.  The Silvio O. Conte National Fish & 
     Wildlife Refuge, Turners Falls, Massachusetts.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
     Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1996.  The Silvio O. Conte National Fish & 
     Wildlife Refuge, Turners Falls, Massachusetts.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
     Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife 
     Research Center Online.  
     (Version 22MAY98).

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