"Finest Wild Coastal Area in Connecticut" Gains 144 Protected Acres

The Nature Conservancy
Thursday, 10 July 2003

Barn Island Has Been Conservation Priority for Three Decades

Three decades after a renowned wetlands scientist named Barn Island "the finest wild coastal area in Connecticut," The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to acquire 144 more acres at the site, increasing its size by almost 20 percent.

The land, bound by the Amtrak right-of-way on one side and the state-owned Barn Island Wildlife Management Area on the other, contains a variety of important wildlife habitats including tidal salt marsh, forested swamps, and upland coastal forest. As one of the last undeveloped large tracts of coastal land in Stonington and with frontage on both Greenhaven Road and Palmer Neck Road, it has been eyed by both conservationists and developers for years. The Nature Conservancy and the DEP attempted to purchase part of the property in the 1980s. More recently, the entire tract had been approved by the town for development as a golf course.

The Conservancy purchased the land for its fair market value - $1.4 million - from Palmer Neck Associates of Wethersfield, and will convey it to the state Department of Environmental Protection as an addition to the wildlife management area later this year, creating a protected area of 1,014 acres.

The Conservancy is contributing $150,000 toward the purchase price with partial use of a bequest from the estate of the late Jess T. Adkins, who lived for many years on Mason's Island in Mystic. Adkins willed these funds to the Conservancy specifically for protecting coastal land in Connecticut. The Conservancy used part of the bequest in 1995 to acquire a 47-acre conservation easement on Mason's Island. The DEP will reimburse The Nature Conservancy for the purchase price less the $150,000 contribution and the DEP will take title to the property.

"The DEP commends the Nature Conservancy for their interest in preserving coastal wetlands in Connecticut," said David K. Leff, Deputy Commissioner of the DEP. "Our partnership with the Conservancy, will enable the Department to protect one of the great natural features of our state for future generations."

The late Connecticut College botany professor Dr. William Niering, an internationally recognized wetlands expert, referred to Barn Island as "the finest wild coastal area in Connecticut" in his 1972 "Report on Barn Island Marshes." The property contains habitat of at least nine birds listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern by the DEP, and has been named an Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society. Salt marshes not only support "salt marsh specialist" species such as the willet and the clapper rail, but also help sustain the productivity and biological diversity of offshore waters. For example, killifish feed on small snails in the saltmarsh, and in turn provide food for larger fish and water birds. Killifish, one of the most abundant small fish, also lay their eggs in saltmarshes.

"It's a spectacular system, a real jewel in a the state as a conservation holding and research site," said Dr. Scott Warren, a professor of botany at Connecticut College in New London, who studied Barn Island extensively with Dr. Niering. "What's important is that the watershed of the marsh is relatively intact, and to have expanded the protection of the watershed is critically important. I don't think that we have anywhere else in Connecticut that much marsh with so much contiguous undeveloped uplands, and protecting those uplands is important to the long term integrity of the system."

"It's important that this area is kept as nearly intact as possible," said Dr. Richard H. Goodwin of East Haddam, a colleague of Doctor Niering's at Connecticut College and a former president of The Nature Conservancy. "Development right next to a wetland would have an impact on the wildness and integrity of the whole package."

To aid with the purchase, DEP has applied for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant. These grants are provided to "acquire, restore, and enhance wetlands of coastal States and the Trust Territories." To date, the Fish & Wildlife Service has awarded $121 million to 25 coastal states and one U.S. Territory, which has gone toward acquiring, protecting or restoring more than 148,000 acres of coastal wetland ecosystems.

"Meaningful habitat conservation requires three things: good science, good relations with landowners, and good partners," said Nature Conservancy Connecticut Chapter Director Dr. Lise A. Hanners. "We salute our partners, particularly the Connecticut DEP, for what they've done to save this coastal property."

For more information, or to contact The Nature Conservancy, see their website at: www.nature.org

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