Following an extensive public review process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month that it is moving forward with the creation of Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge. America’s newest National Wildlife Refuge will be dedicated to conserving and managing shrubland and young forests for wildlife in New England and eastern New York, helping to stem alarming declines among shrubland birds.

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, populations of more than 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have plummeted. Despite significant efforts by many agencies, organizations, and landowners to manage existing lands, conservationists have determined that more permanently protected and managed land is needed to restore wildlife populations and return balance to Northeast woodlands. Great Thicket NWR responds to that need.

According to Audubon Connecticut's Director of Bird Conservation Patrick Comins, "The Refuge will offer new opportunities to conserve and manage shrubland habitat in focal areas throughout New England and eastern New York. This will offer powerful new tools to help stem declines in early successional bird species including Blue-winged Warbler, Ruffed Grouse, and Yellow-breasted Chat as well as other wildlife that relies on this habitat such as the Spotted Turtle."

Now that the plan has been approved, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) can begin working with willing and interested landowners in 10 target areas of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island to acquire up to 15,000 acres through various methods, including conservation easements, donations, or fee-title acquisition. Current refuge staff would manage all acquired lands within existing resources.

This process will take some time, as the USFWS will work strictly with willing sellers only and depends on funding availability to make purchases. Lands within an acquisition boundary would not become part of the refuge unless their owners sell or donate them to the USFWS; the boundary has no impact on how landowners can use their land or to whom they can sell.

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