Popular refuge may get face-lift

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UPTON – Depending on mailed comments and input from five upcoming public hearings in Maine and New Hampshire, the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge could get a makeover, name and focus change.

The refuge, which spans the border of northern New Hampshire and western Maine, protects 20,919 acres of significant wildlife habitats in Coos County, N.H., and Oxford County. It was established in 1992 to provide long-term protection for unique wetlands, threatened and endangered species, and migratory birds of conservation concern.

After five years of planning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a comprehensive conservation plan for the refuge. It includes three alternative approaches for managing wildlife, habitats and public use programs at the refuge for the next 15 years.

Each alternative seeks to increase the refuge’s total acreage while improving wildlife-dependent recreation.

Alternative A keeps management as is, but would continue work to acquire the remaining 6,392 acres within the approved refuge boundary.

Alternative B, which is recommended by the service, would, as its highest priority, protect the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of Umbagog Lake and its associated rivers and tributaries.

“This alternative represents the combination of actions that our planning team feels best achieves the refuge purpose, vision, and goals,” refuge Manager Paul Casey stated in a recent report.

A second priority is to manage the upland mixed forest and associated species, focusing on enhancing habitats for selected refuge local species.

Alternative B would also improve the quality of the refuge’s wildlife-dependent recreation programs, strengthen partnerships with state and local entities offering similar programs in the area, and develop a program to apply the best available science in management decisions that affect wildlife resources in the Northern Forest.

Additionally, it includes expanding the refuge as part of a network of conservation lands by acquiring 49,718 acres from willing sellers, and proposes a new refuge headquarters and visitor contact facility. Refuge staffing and budgets would also equally increase.

Alternative C focuses more on manipulating – passively or actively – vegetation to create or hasten the development of natural communities, landscape patterns and processes.

Unlike the other two, this choice would expand the refuge by 76,304 acres, by creating contiguous blocks of water-connected conservation habitat greater than 25,000 acres.

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