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Connect the Connecticut makes the case for conservation in Eightmile River watershed

Audubon Connecticut used data from the landscape conservation design to help justify funding a project as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ In Lieu Fee program, established to support mitigation projects in the state to enhance and preserve aquatic habitats.

As a member of the core team for the Connect the Connecticut landscape conservation design project, Patrick Comins was committed to ensuring that the design would be a useful prioritization tool for protecting key habitat for birds and other wildlife in Connecticut. Now the Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Connecticut is demonstrating the value of the final design by using it to support mitigation projects in the state.  

Audubon Connecticut partners with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an initiative called the In Lieu Fee Program, established to provide funding for the restoration, enhancement, and preservation of aquatic habitats and upland buffers. The program receives funding from application fees paid to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for development projects that impact wetlands and watercourses, and Audubon Connecticut acts as a grantor, overseeing the RFP process to award funding to local, state, and federal partners to carry out large-scale mitigation projects, from habitat restoration to land acquisition.

This year, they used Connect the Connecticut to strengthen the case to fund a project proposed by a land trust in Connecticut’s Eightmile River watershed, which lies within the Connecticut River watershed 

Although the parcel is just 20 acres, Comins said it represents a key inholding for conservation. The details of the project have not been announced publicly yet, but the site is adjacent to an existing preserve, encompasses a pond that drains into a unique freshwater wetland, and adds to a network of open space in an area considered important by a number of land trusts.

“The other beauty is that the site had been approved for a subdivision for four lots, so it was a bargain sale,” said Comins. “There could have been four additional houses, or maybe more, right adjacent to the swamp and preserve.”

The parcel had a lot working in its favor. It lies within a draft conservation focal area for the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge's Comprehensive Conservation Plan, as well as in one of Audubon’s Important Bird Areas. But Comins said when he evaluated the application, one of the first things he noticed was that it lies within a Tier 1 Core Area. Connect the Connecticut sealed the deal.

Comins added that as the program matures, there will be more and more competition for funds, and Connect the Connecticut will be an “incredibly valuable tool” for screening projects that fall within the watershed.

But for projects that fall outside the watershed, he is eager to have forthcoming regional scale tools at his disposal. “People are always contacting me wanting to know: Why is my land important?” he said. “There are new opportunities coming in all the time.”

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