Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Conte Refuge adds 80 acres in Chesterfield to 'conservation mosaic'

CHESTERFIELD - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced Monday that is has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to add an 80-acre parcel in Chesterfield to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

The land was owned by Jeffrey Poirier of Berkshire Hardwoods Inc., who sold the property Nov. 22 to Fish & Wildlife for $320,000. It is located along the Dead Branch Brook, off East Street about a quarter mile from Main Street (Route 143.)

"This process has been about four years in the making," Poirier said. "There has been a lot of conversation and kicking the tires prior to today."

On Monday afternoon, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver of Amherst joined Poirier and representatives from the Nature Conservancy and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge on a hike through the newly protected area.

Although it was the first day of hunting season, Olver was still eager to visit the site, pushing through underbrush and slogging through mud.

"Over the years I have worked with the Nature Conservancy and Fish & Wildlife on a number of projects, and I have tried to secure earmarked funds when they are available," he said. "This is an important project because it creates a nice network of protected areas in important habitat."

Markelle Smith, a land protection specialist with the Nature Conservancy, said the property is a key parcel due to the "amazing amount of biodiversity."

As well as being home to deer, moose, black bear, coyote, red and gray fox, beaver, river otter, fisher, freshwater brook trout and Atlantic salmon, the land is critical habitat for wood turtles, a species of special concern, as well as several rare dragonfly species, according to Smith.

A recent survey conducted by aquatic biologist Ethan Nedeau of Amherst-based ecological consultancy Biodrawversity, reported that the area also provides the most promising freshwater mussel habitat in the entire Westfield River watershed. According to the Nature Conservancy, the watershed boasts some of the healthiest waters in southern New England.

Olver noted that because of development pressures along the Westfield River, it falls to the Fish & Wildlife Service to find the resources to preserve what he termed, in a statement, "one of the most fragile ecosystems within western Massachusetts."

The acquisition of this land helps establish a significant north-south conservation corridor that helps protect Dead Branch Brook and Long Pond, both of which are located within the newly preserved land off East Street. It abuts the Nature Conservancy's Bisbee preserve, located on the opposite side of East between East and Main streets, and also provides a connection to Fish & Wildlife's 580 acre Fisk Meadows Wildlife Management Area. Fisk Meadows is situated on the other side of Main Street, and also abuts the Bisbee preserve.

"This gives species greater ease of movement in a bigger forest block," Markelle said. "And when you add in the Westfield river, it becomes an extremely import place to protect."

Funding for this acquisition comes from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is maintained by money collected by the federal government from offshore oil and gas leases to be used for conservation work across the country.

"This is an exemplary use of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and we're extremely grateful to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and former property owner Jeff Poirier for making it a reality," Wayne Klockner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, said in a statement. Klockner also took part in the hike.

The Conservancy works with other agencies and organizations to facilitate the purchase of land for the purpose of habitat conservation.

"We helped to identify the property as a potential conservation area, and then helped out negotiating the acquisition," said Conservancy spokesman James Miller.

The Conservancy recently purchased 69 acres nearby along the headwaters of Roberts Meadow Brook, which will be preserved as open space, adding to the list of protected parcels in the watershed.

According to Andrew French, project leader for the Conte Refuge, the acquisition represents another important piece in an ongoing conservation effort.

"This is one parcel of land that will likely be one of many pieces in the conservation puzzle that we are trying to assemble with our partner organizations," French said. "By working with willing land owners to protect this area piece by piece, we can put together a conservation mosaic of land that is structurally and functionally sound."

According to French, Fish & Wildlife typically opens up its areas to hunting and fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, environmental interpretation and photography.

The Conte Refuge was established in 1997 to conserve and protect the abundance of native plants and wildlife that thrive in the Connecticut River Watershed in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Source: http://www.gazettenet.com/2011/11/29/80-acres-in-chesterfield-adds-to-039conservation-mosaic039

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