DEEP: DEP Announces Grassland Habitat Conservation Initiative

October 17, 2006

DEP Announces Grassland Habitat Conservation Initiative

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced a new initiative aimed at conserving grassland habitat in order to protect critical nesting and breeding grounds for bird and other species.

This initiative was selected as the first major statewide action to be addressed under Connecticutís Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS), which is a federally approved and funded strategy for wildlife management and conservation projects. Grassland is one of the priority habitats identified in this strategy because it provides habitat for eighty bird species in our state, thirteen of which are listed under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act, and several mammal, herptile, and many invertebrate species.

"CT already has a strong reputation for conserving essential habitats," said DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy. "Through CTís Open Space Program, the Farmland Preservation Act, and the Community Investment Act we have established a solid framework for protecting and preserving natural resources and the beauty of Connecticut as well as the species that depend on these habitats. The Grassland Habitat Conservation Initiative strengthens our efforts to achieve these objectives with a specific focus on a vital habitat which is in decline."

In support of the Grassland Habitat Conservation Initiative, the DEP has committed $3.2 million for the acquisition of grassland habitat and has set aside an additional $4.5 million for future acquisitions.

The objectives of the initiative are to:

  • Complete a statewide survey to identify the location and quality of existing grasslands and lands suitable to create grasslands
  • Establish a statewide goal for the number of acres of grassland habitat necessary to maintain a diverse population of grassland bird species throughout the state
  • Expand efforts to acquire and/or protect grasslands in order to reduce the number of state threatened and endangered grassland bird species
  • Make acquisition of wildlife habitat a key priority in the revision of the DEPís Open Space Acquisition Plan
  • Expand efforts to create partnerships and hence improve the dissemination of information among state and local official and landowners

"Grassland habitat is in serious decline throughout the state, especially in the Connecticut River Valley, from the Hartford area north to the Massachusetts state line, where most of the prime habitat is located," said Edward Parker, Natural Resources Bureau Chief. "This valley is the primary migratory corridor for grassland bird species that return to this area of the state each spring to breed and rear their young. These lands are also under intense land development. The Department looks forward to working with a broad based group of partners to conserve grassland habitat."

"Birds are essential to the complex ecosystems of agriculture," noted F. Philip Prelli, Commissioner of Agriculture. "Conserving their habitat helps to ensure adequate pasture land for our farmers as well as preserve the beloved rural character of our state. This initiative will strengthen our existing efforts and complement the successful programs that we have in place. The Department of Agriculture looks forward to working with the DEP and other partners involved in this very worthwhile endeavor."

Conservation actions to address grassland decline will be coordinated with key partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, other state agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, Economic and Community Development, Transportation and the Office of Policy and Management, CT Audubon, Audubon CT, CT Ornithological Association, The Nature Conservancy, CT Farmland Trust, CT Farm Bureau, Working Lands Alliance, Trust for Public Land, The Wildlife Management Institute, sportsmenís conservation organizations, and municipalities.

In addition to partnerships the initiative calls for the creation of a Leadership/Policy Committee comprised of state agency heads or their designees to provide direction to agency staff, foster support for the initiative and assure a coordinated effort and a technical working group made up of state, federal and local agencies, landowners, academia, agricultural interests and open space advocates to enhance communication and the exchange and dissemination of information that will help target future acquisitions.