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Sen. Shaheen tours Umbagog refuge



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Mr. Casey points out a bald eagle on the tour. (Photo by Erik Eisele) (click for larger version)
September 02, 2009
ERROL — U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen toured the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge on Friday with representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Trust for Public Land, and the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The representatives from the different organizations explained to the senator what land purchases and easements recent federal appropriations had allowed and what further conservation efforts they would like to pursue.

Rodger Krussman, New Hampshire and Vermont director for the Trust for Public Land, said there are several parcels and easements ready to be purchased.

"We have more than enough opportunity for conservation," he said, "it's funding."

As more money is secured, he said, conservationists can increase the size of the protected area.

The goal is to create protected corridors for animals between the different preserved areas.

The most recent $1 million the federal government appropriated to the region will go toward conserving Blake Island, Mollidgewock Phase II, Big Island and areas throughout the upper Androscoggin watershed. The most recent efforts build on those of previous years.

Refuge manager Paul Casey led the tour, pointing out loons, herons and bald eagles to the Senator and her husband. He said 60,000 people a year use the lake, which, as a refuge, is prioritized toward the needs wildlife over those of human uses. The Fish and Wildlife Service is significantly smaller than the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service, he said, and Umbagog is the smallest staffed refuge in the area. Still, conservationists have been able to protect 70 percent of the lake's shoreline, and they are working to protect a total of 31,000 acres in the next five years.

Paul Doscher, of the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said 1,000 of the 31,000 acres they would like to preserve is a nearby lake that is one of the last strongholds for Eastern Brook Trout. This parcel would go to fish and game, preserving an almost completely undeveloped shoreline.

Another 23,000 acres would remain working forest with conservation easements, and 7,000 more acres would have restricted uses.

"This was only a vision in people's minds 20 years ago," he said. Now it is coming to fruition.

The refuge recently received approval for its comprehensive conservation plan, which Mr. Casey said took almost seven years. The goal, he said, is to protect the entire headwaters area, which is the confluence of the Androscoggin river, the Rapid river and the Magalloway.

"We kind of took the watershed approach," he said.

The refuge is working on hiking trails and other recreation opportunities in addition to the camping and boating available on Umbagog.

"We don't want to saturate the lake," he said.

Sen. Shaheen was able to see several bald eagles. Mr. Casey said the eagle population increased by eight this year, and the loon population increased by three.

He said the refuge, which allows hunting and fishing in addition to boating and wildlife viewing opportunities, had been a great draw for the region.

"Often we have these public debates about should we preserve land," Sen. Shaheen said. "This kind of preserve has a huge economic impact."

Conservationists are hoping the impacts will are big enough to garner more funding, so their preservation goals can continue in the future.

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