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April 22, 2009

CONTACT:
Steve Fuller, N.H. Fish and Game Dept., 603-361-4336, steven.fuller@wildlife.nh.gov
Mark Zankel, The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire, 603-491-7848, mzankel@tnc.org
Terri Edwards, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 413-253-8324, Terri_Edwards@fws.gov

$1.72 million Awarded to Protect New Hampshire Wildlife

CONCORD, N.H. -- The N.H. Fish and Game Department has received two of 13 State Wildlife Grant Competitive Program awards from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, totaling $1.72 million, or 25% of the grant funds available nationally. Together, the grants crystallize two innovative habitat conservation partnerships. One project, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy of New Hampshire, targets Northern Forests spanning the Adirondack and White Mountains. The other, to be led by the Wildlife Management Institute, focuses on the imperiled New England cottontail rabbit, ranging from the lower Hudson River to the Gulf of Maine. The unprecedented dual award marks national recognition of New Hampshire's wildlife conservation leadership, and would not have been possible without the partnership of The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Management Institute.

The aim of the State Wildlife Grant program is to pre-empt the need to federally list endangered wildlife through voluntary conservation action. To that end, the project entitled "Staying Connected in the Northern Appalachians" ensures habitat connectivity for 41 wide-ranging and forest-dwelling species of concern across the Northern Forest. The "Rangewide New England Cottontail Initiative" will restore early-successional habitats -- a top priority in the Wildlife Action Plans of all the New England states, since many of the region's most imperiled wildlife are dependent on them.

The Northern Appalachians ecoregion, also known as the Northern Forest, spans two countries, four states, four provinces and 80-million acres; it contains rare alpine vegetation, at-risk species, old-growth forests, very large unfragmented forest blocks, high quality rivers and streams, and 5.4 million people. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will manage implementation of the project and will provide most of the funds matching the $992,000 award. TNC will work directly with other partners, including New Hampshire Audubon and Two Countries One Forest, a bi-national collaborative focused on forests and natural heritage from New York to Nova Scotia.

"The Northern Appalachian ecoregion is unique: we know of very few places in the world where such a large and intact temperate mixed and deciduous forest is located so close to so many people," said Mark Zankel, Deputy State Director for The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire.

Early-successional habitats, once abundant in a landscape reverting from agriculture, are at risk because natural regenerative processes, like flooding, fire, and beaver activity, have been replaced with controlled human environments. Among the habitats of concern are coastal scrub, riparian brush, pine barrens, shrub wetlands, and young aspen-birch stands. It is widely regcognized that these patchy habitats support the highest level of animal diversity in the Northeast. The cottontail project will restore up to 1,200 acres of habitat to reverse the path toward extinction for the rabbit, but the project will benefit many imperiled animal species.

"The Rangewide New England Cottontail Initiative is an innovative public-private project that will not only create habitat for widely recognized animals like rabbits and woodcock, but will also benefit 70 species of butterflies and moths, three species of beetles, 40 species of birds, three amphibians, 11 reptiles, and nine mammals," said Scot Williamson, Vice President of the Wildlife Management Institute. The Institute will assist the states with implementation, and will work in concert with NH, MA, and CT provide funds to match the $732,000 award.

The two projects rely on integrative relationships among key agencies. Transportation agencies from across the region will be active participants to help identify and incorporate recommended Northern Forest connectivity improvements as part of road maintenance/upgrade work planned for 2009-2014. For the cottontail initiative, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are working with the states to implement programs to expedite funding for work on private lands. For both projects, implementation will build on complex computer modeling initiated at N.H. Fish and Game. The proactive and innovative approach taken by all of the partners for both projects are timely in the face of looming environmental challenges.

"Securing the habitat connectivity of our Northern Forests will provide a critical buffer against climate change and habitat loss for some of our most valued wildlife, including moose, Canada lynx, American marten, wolf, black bear, and bobcat," said Dr. Steven Fuller, a wildlife biologist at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. "It is unacceptable for us to witness the next mammalian extinction in our backyards or to allow the continued impoverishment of the most diverse fauna in the Northeast."

In a statement announcing the nearly $9 million awarded nationwide through the State Wildlife Grants Competitive Program, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, "The projects funded by these grants target some of the most imperiled species and habitats in the United States. They're also among the most effective, because they are tied to well thought-out conservation plans that identify the highest priorities in each state -- as well as the areas where we can make the biggest difference for imperiled species." For more information, visit www.fws.gov.

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The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats. The Department works in partnership with the public to conserve, manage and protect these resources and their habitats. Visit www.wildnh.com.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Since 1961, The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire has helped protect more than 265,000 acres of ecologically significant land and currently owns and manages 28 preserves across the state. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org/newhampshire.

The Wildlife Management Institute is a professional conservation organization that works to improve the professional foundation of wildlife management. Visit www.wildlifemanagementinstitute.org.

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