Connecting on the Connecticut

The Connecticut River’s ability to thrive in the face of modern-day threats like climate change, pollution, and development may hinge on our ability to connect with each other to conserve it.

The Connecticut River. Credit: Connecticut River Watershed Council

Encompassing New England’s largest river system, the 7.2 million-acre Connecticut River watershed boasts a diversity of habitats stretching from coastal salt marshes in Connecticut to alpine tundra in New Hampshire.

It is home to a variety of fish, wildlife and plants — from iconic species like bald eagle and black bear to federally threatened and endangered species like the shortnose sturgeon, piping plover, dwarf wedgemussel and Jesup’s milk-vetch.

It is also home to more than two million people living in Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The river is a lifeline for the Northeast. It nurtures farms and cities and provides jobs, food, clean water, storm protection, recreation and other natural benefits that support people and communities. But the Connecticut’s ability to thrive in the face of modern-day  threats like climate change, pollution, and development may hinge on our ability to connect with each other to conserve it.

Here are two notable connections you should know about.

The first is the Source to Sea Cleanup, an annual gathering of volunteers who remove tons of trash from the Connecticut River basin, preventing it from ever reaching the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and the large floating garbage patches around the world. Hosted by the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the cleanup, scheduled for Sept. 26-27, has been a fall staple for nearly two decades and involves all four states of the watershed.

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Volunteers help clean up the Connecticut River near West Hartford, CT. Credit: Connecticut River Watershed Council

“The Connecticut River is New England’s largest river and provides more than 70 percent of the fresh water to the Long Island Sound,” says Council Executive Director Andrew Fisk. “During the past 17 years of the cleanup, volunteers have removed more than 851 tons of trash just from the Connecticut River basin. By participating in Source to Sea, local folks are making our corner of the planet just that much cleaner.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a supporting partner in Source to Sea, deploying staff and equipment from Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and the Connecticut River Coordinator’s Office to haul debris from the river. The Service joins partners like Holyoke Rows, Deerfield Academy, The Nature Conservancy, and Great Meadows Conservation Trust in a true grassroots effort to think globally and act locally.

“Source to Sea inspires people’s investment in their community and gives them a sense of ownership and pride for their area,” says the Service’s Andy French, who manages Conte Refuge. “Contributing a little adds up to something big.”

In 2013, more than 2,200 volunteers pulled more than 45 tons of trash from river banks and waterways. The haul included 24 shopping carts, 20 televisions, 14 couches, and two refrigerators. If you are inspired to join a cleanup group, visit the Council’s website at


A map depicting Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need data assembled for more than 500 species in the Northeast Region.

Not far from the river’s shore, a second important, though less visible, connection is taking place. At the Hadley Farms Meeting House in Hadley, Mass., representatives of more than 30 conservation agencies and organizations devoted to conserving the watershed are charting a course for its future. Led by the Service and the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, with support from the four watershed states, the partners are quietly creating a new model for conservation in the Northeast.

Armed with maps and models that analyze the needs of regional species and habitats and project future impacts (out to the year 2080), the partners are creating a conservation blueprint for the watershed. The plan will help target investments and actions in areas that can best withstand forces like climate change and development, and otherwise support healthy fish and wildlife populations for future generations.

“This is truly a groundbreaking effort, building on a long history of collaborative conservation in the watershed,” says Ken Elowe, a former state wildlife agency director in Maine who now heads the Service’s science applications program in the Northeast. “For the first time we have the science capability to pinpoint habitat needs — what kind, how much, and where — to sustain fish and wildlife species at desired population levels across a large area like the Connecticut River watershed. And we will know how the watershed contributes to broader species and habitat goals for the entire Northeast.”

For conservation agencies and organizations working in the watershed every day, the implications are significant. Says the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Fisk, also a partner in the landscape conservation design pilot,  “For us to have tools that can demonstrate what we expect to see for change; what we expect to see for threats; and what we expect to see for opportunities – is incredibly important.”

Nature is the perfect expression of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. When people recognize and embrace that power, anything is possible.

Learn more about the Connecticut River Landscape Conservation Design Pilot

Learn more about the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Source to Sea Cleanup

2 Comments on “Connecting on the Connecticut

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