By James Miller
When Kim Lutz moved with her family from Georgia to lead the Conservancy’s Connecticut River program in 2003, her first meeting wasn’t with another Conservancy employee.
Instead, she found herself in the Turners Falls, Mass., office of Andrew French, project leader of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.
“It was the start of a great friendship and productive partnership,” Lutz says.
The Conte Refuge is a legacy of the man for whom it is named: Pittsfield, Mass., native Silvio O. Conte, who served in the Massachusetts Senate and U.S. Congress for more than 30 years.
Conte said he had a dream that his children and grandchildren would be able to enjoy the outdoors as he had. A man who knew the Connecticut River intimately, Conte championed the river’s cause, and, before his death in 1991, asked Congress to create a refuge to protect its watershed.
As the only national wildlife refuge dedicated to a river’s entire watershed, the four-state Conte Refuge is unique in its vision for protecting an incredible resource for generations to come.
“Twenty-one years after Silvio O. Conte’s death, his dream may be the model for the future,” Lutz says. “His big vision allows the Conservancy to work with the refuge in so many ways.”
The partnership between the Conservancy and the Conte Refuge was in full flow in 2011.
In Connecticut, Conte’s protected area grew when the refuge acquired 96 acres first protected by the Conservancy in 2002-03, with the intent the land would enter public management. The acquisition included 56 acres in Old Lyme, as well as 40 acres in East Hampton that were transferred jointly by the Conservancy and the Middlesex Land Trust.
In Massachusetts, the Conservancy played a major role in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s acquisition of 80 acres in Chesterfield for the Conte Refuge. It is the first in Conte’s Westfield River Division.
In New Hampshire, the Conservancy helped add 510 acres of valuable wetland and wildlife habitat to the Pondicherry Division of the Conte Refuge. With this acquisition, it is the first time since the refuge was created in 1997 that refuge lands will connect to the White Mountain National Forest.The newly acquired tract in Carroll and Whitefield, N.H., provides high quality, diverse wetland habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds, black bear, moose, and other local wildlife. Funds for the acquisition came from the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which is derived in large part through the sale of waterfowl hunting licenses or “Duck Stamps.” Hunting and fishing, both traditional uses in the area, will be allowed.
Since 1997, partners have helped protect more than 35,300 acres that are administered by the Conte Refuge.
“Conservation, environmental education and outdoor recreation are the pillars that support our landscape partner-ships,” says Conte’s Andrew French. “Our focus at the watershed scale and the relationship we enjoy with our partners may help influence how other refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System approach our country’s land-scapes, and The Nature Conservancy brings so much to the table—from science to policy and everything in-between—that helps move us in the right direction.”May 22, 2012
James Miller is a media relations manager for The Nature Conservancy