Protecting Springfield’s Wild Side, One Partner at a Time!

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When I first began working as a park ranger at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, I would wonder how we could possibly hope to accomplish our mission. The 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed is a giant piece of land and we are responsible for protecting and enhancing a huge diversity of native plants, fish and wildlife species, as well as the ecosystems they depend upon. To make matters more challenging, we directly manage only a small part of the territory we are responsible for protecting. The rest of the land is owned and managed by others.

But I was soon to learn the truth about environmental conservation… No one individual or organization can do it alone. It takes everyone working together to make a difference! This partnership approach is what the Conte refuge was built on.

Why are partnerships so effective in environmental conservation?

What I have discovered is that each person’s individual talents and experiences make them invaluable to the mission. No one individual is good at everything, but a large group of diverse individuals can come pretty close!

Earlier this year, the Conte refuge assisted in the creation of an Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in Springfield, Massachusetts. Through this partnership, the Service is working alongside other public agencies, Springfield community organizations, area schools, and private organizations to restore the city’s natural areas. And together, we are already making an impact.

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A view of the Abbey Brook restoration site. Credit: Susan Wojtowicz

Our partnership’s first project is to restore Abbey Brook, a small stream that flows through Springfield and empties into the Chicopee River, eventually flowing into the Connecticut River. This stream and the woods surrounding it has a lot of potential for providing much needed habitat for nearby wildlife; however, it has been damaged over time by pollution, harmful invasive plants, and waters that rise quickly after heavy rain storms.

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Credit: Susan Wojtowicz

Many neighborhoods and schools surround the Abbey Brook site, and we are encouraging community members to become partners as well. Many of them, young and old, already use the site as a place to enjoy nature.

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Credit: Susan Wojtowicz

With the community’s guidance, we hope to encourage even more community members to use the site by creating trails that will provide easier access, while protecting sensitive areas.

And just think of all of the potential educational opportunities this partnership can provide! Through classroom programming, independent studies, internship opportunities, and peer mentoring programs with area colleges and universities, students will be able to learn directly from scientists, professors, college students, environmental educators, and field professionals with a diversity of skills and backgrounds. Through these programs, we hope to encourage urban youth to become stewards of their environment and introduce them to careers in natural resource conservation.

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Students from Holyoke Community College examine the Abbey Brook site to apply classroom knowledge in a real world setting. Credit: Susan Wojtowicz

America is a very big place. (And I thought the Conte Refuge was huge!) Luckily, Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships have been established in various cities throughout the United States and more are being established each year. Together we are making a much larger impact than the Service could possibly make on its own.

Partnership Map

Locations of current Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships, Credit: USFWS

Our partnership is not yet good at everything. We are still looking for additional partners to fill in the gaps. But I do know that we are much more effective as a group than we could possibly be as individual organizations.

Our work in Springfield is just beginning… But it’s a very exciting beginning!

To see more of the important work we are doing within the Connecticut River Watershed, visit the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge website.

To learn more about urban partnerships that have been established throughout the country, visit the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships website.

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