DEEP: DEEP Announces USFWS Grant to Protect and Enhance Critical Coastal Habitat

September 27, 2013
 
DEEP Announces USFWS Grant to Protect and Enhance Critical Coastal Habitat
 
Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) was recently awarded a $985,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to acquire and preserve three different parcels totaling 82 acres of critical coastal habitat and to restore 60 acres of saltmarsh.  The funds were made available through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) of 1989, which provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife. The Act was passed, in part, to support activities under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, an international agreement that provides a strategy for the long-term protection of wetlands and associated uplands habitats needed by waterfowl and other migratory birds in North America. NAWCA is a competitive grants program that requires grant requests to be matched by partner contributions at no less than a 1-to-1 ratio.

“The DEEP proposal competed with 34 other meaningful and important wetland projects across North America, and was chosen as one of 21 funded projects in the current grant cycle,” said Susan Whalen, DEEP Deputy Commissioner. “The tipping point for these projects being selected was that even though it involves low acreage compared to many of the other projects considered for funding, it brings together seven different partners and leverages over $4.6 million dollars. The projects are a perfect example of how conservation, particularly in tight financial times, must embrace multiple partnerships and interests.”

Partners involved in these projects are Ducks Unlimited, Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, Dennison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Town of Tolland, Town of Branford, and Branford Land Trust.

The project area and immediate offshore environment regularly harbors up to 20% of Connecticut’s wintering waterfowl population. Connecticut is one of the most densely populated states in the United States, with some of the highest coastal property values in the country, making conservation of remaining coastal wetlands very challenging. Over 90% of the coastline in our state is already developed. In spite of this high rate of development, the state has globally significant breeding and wintering populations of many highest-priority species of wetland-dependent birds, such as the saltmarsh sparrow (a species of special concern), the endangered roseate tern, and American black duck. The importance of the project area to those species and over 60 other Greatest Conservation Need (GCN) migratory bird species makes it a critically important conservation project. The project will protect several currently unprotected parcels remaining in important wetland complexes and restore degraded parts of the most important wetlands.

Restoration work to be conducted under a project planned for Silver Sands State Park in Milford will increase interior tidal flow in the marsh habitat, control invasive phragmites, restore native vegetation, and provide source reduction for mosquito control, with a concomitant reduction or elimination in chemical pesticide applications. All of these efforts combined will result in the restoration and enhancement of resting, feeding, and breeding areas for fish and wildlife species. DEEP’s Wetland Restoration and Mosquito Management (WHAMM) Program is slated to begin this project in April 2014.

The acquisition and subsequent protection of two coastal saltmarsh parcels, one in Branford and the other in Milford, will not only provide critical habitat for migratory birds, but the upland elevations in both parcels will allow for marsh migration as sea levels rise. Over the last century, the sea level has risen approximately two millimeters per year. However, most projections indicate that sea level rise in Long Island Sound and the northeastern United States as a whole is expected to be of a greater magnitude and more accelerated relative to other systems on the Atlantic Coast.

The acquisition and protection of 34 acres of early successional (shrubland) habitat in Mystic, along with continued habitat management that favors this critical habitat, will benefit the state-listed brown thrasher, yellow breasted chat, and many other shrubland birds, 80% of which are declining in Connecticut. This parcel is the last undeveloped property along the Mystic River in southeastern Connecticut.