The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it plans to acquire around 160,000 acres of land in 22 different locations in four states found along the Connecticut River.

The wildlife agency is eyeing additional land in the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, where it plans to add to the 37,000 acres already included in Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The USFWS wildlife sanctuary is found within the 7.2 million-acre watershed of the Connecticut.

According to the USFWS, the proposal to obtain land is part of the agency's chosen alternative of four featured in the draft of a conservation plan and statement of environmental impact released to the public on Monday. This begins a period for public comment that is expected to run through the middle part of November.

Refuge manager Andrew French said that the areas included in their proposal are vital for protection. Established in 1997, the refuge in the watershed of the Connecticut River is utilized for the conservation, protection and enhancement of endemic species of fish, wildlife and plants in the region.

The agency's goal with the refuge is to protect the natural habitat of native animals, promote environmental education and establish recreation while cooperating with local, state and federal governmental agencies, as well as private groups.

French pointed out that the agency prefers to purchase available land only from owners who are willing to sell based on fair market value. He said that the proposal is for a long-term land acquisition process, which may take several decades.

The USFWS's new plan involves managing natural habitat for different species and continue support for public uses of the refuge, including fishing, hunting, environmental education and wildlife observation.

French said that the first acquisition the refuge has made since its establishment was a 3.8-acre portion of Third Island located in the river of Deerfield in Massachusetts. He added that the USFWS is authorized to obtain as much as 100,000 acres of land.

Aside from the acquisition of additional land, other alternatives included in the draft plan were the maintaining of existing management practices, shifting the management focus toward cooperation with other groups without increasing the current extent of land the refuge can acquire and extended the refuge's boundaries but with a less active management of habitat.

Photo: Americas Wildlife | Flickr 

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