Federal agency seeks to expand national refuge in New England

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MONTPELIER — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to expand by tens of thousands of acres a national refuge that covers parts of the Connecticut River watershed in New England.

The federal agency released its 15-year conservation plan Friday for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which covers more than 37,000 acres in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The plan includes a proposal to seek authority for the agency to buy up to more than 197,000 acres from interested property owners, about double the amount Fish and Wildlife currently has the authority to acquire.

"What we're trying to do is strategically invest these acres in this conservation mosaic to not only protect land as national wildlife refuge for wildlife and people, but we're also trying to enhance the resiliency of what's already been protected," said Andrew French, the refuge's project leader.

Regarding public use, the Fish and Wildlife Service says trapping would be allowed to continue in the Nulhegan Basin in Vermont but recreational drones would not be appropriate on the refuge.

The refuge, named after the late congressman from Massachusetts, was established in 1997 to conserve, protect and enhance Connecticut River populations of native species of plants, fish and wildlife. The refuge provides habitat for numerous animals, including Atlantic salmon, river herring, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and osprey.

A draft conservation plan and environmental impact statement was released for public comment in August 2015.

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