The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is reminding you that if you’ve ever purchased firearms or ammunition, bows, arrows, fishing lures, rods and reels, hunting or fishing licenses, or fueled up your boat, then you are part of the most successful effort to conserve fish and wildlife in America – the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Programs. The effort has resulted in millions of acres of habitat saved and near miraculous population increases in several species of game and sport fish throughout the nation. This year marks the 75th Anniversary of these landmark programs – the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act and the Sport Fish Restoration Act – which collect an excise fee on certain hunting and fishing equipment that is then returned to the states for fish and wildlife projects. DEEP’s Bureau of Natural Resources is highlighting how these programs benefit Connecticut’s fish and wildlife populations and provide opportunities for state residents to participate in outdoor recreational activities.
The statewide system of wildlife management areas (WMAs) is largely the result of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, also referred to as the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Act for its sponsors – Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman A. Willis Robertson. Prior to this historic act, many wildlife species were driven to or near extinction by unregulated market shooting and habitat degradation.
“Due to forward-minded conservation leadership, the P-R Act resulted in the remarkable recovery of America’s wildlife and allowed state agencies to purchase and secure wildlife lands for future generations,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division. “Federal aid funds have been instrumental in the purchase of approximately one-third of the 105 WMAs that are managed by the Wildlife Division.”
WMAs are areas of land and water having unique or outstanding wildlife qualities that are managed primarily for the conservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife and to provide opportunities for fish and wildlife-based recreation. Early wildlife management area acquisitions funded through the P-R Program include Barn Island (Stonington, 1945) Assekonk Swamp (North Stonington, 1945), and Charter Marsh (Tolland, 1948).
All together, Connecticut’s 105 WMAs total over 32,000 acres, and range in size from one acre to 2,017 acres. They contain a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, old fields, forests, coastal salt marshes, freshwater marshes, and riparian zones, and provide habitat for 439 vertebrate species and thousands of invertebrate species, while providing public recreation for hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, fishing, hunting, and trapping. Motorized vehicles are prohibited; however, handicapped hunters may obtain a special permit from the DEEP to use an ATV while hunting. Handicapped accessible hunting trails are available at Roraback (Harwinton), Sessions Woods (Burlington), Kollar (Tolland), Babcock Pond (East Haddam, Colchester), and Bear Hill (Bozrah) WMAs. Camping is also prohibited, except at the group camping area at Sessions Woods. Groups that use the Sessions Woods camping area must obtain a special permit and use the site for approved educational purposes. Sessions Woods is also the only WMA with a Conservation Education Center and Exhibit Area.
“The Wildlife Division’s Habitat Management Program is responsible for developing management plans that identify the natural resource values of WMAs and maintaining or enhancing those values and associated compatible outdoor recreational activities,” added Jacobson. “One aspect of these efforts is restoring or enhancing early successional habitats, such as old fields, grasslands, and agricultural habitats, on WMAs.” These important habitats are rapidly declining due to forest succession, loss of farmland, intensified farming practices, residential and commercial development, and the absence of fire in the landscape. Associated with the disappearance of these habitats is a decline in once common wildlife, such as bobolinks, meadowlarks, blue-winged warblers, eastern towhees, chestnut-side warblers, New England cottontails, and American woodcock.
Several techniques are used to restore/maintain early successional habitats, including tractor/brush mowing, use of large mowing/mulching equipment, logging operations, prescribed burns, herbicides, grassland plantings, and administration of agricultural license agreements. Wetland habitats are enhanced on WMAs through the maintenance of water control structures, invasive plant control, pothole creation in marshes, and the installation of wood duck nest boxes. Routine maintenance responsibilities on WMAs include boundary and sign posting and the repair and maintenance of parking lots, gates, interior road systems, and wildlife viewing areas. All of these management activities are made possible because of the funding received through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs.
Detailed information about most of the Wildlife Management Areas, along with maps and directions, can be found on the DEEP Web site at www.ct.gov/deep/wildlife  (select “Maps & Access Information” on the left navigation menu). Look for more information to come about the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs in Connecticut. One of the best ways to learn more is to subscribe to the DEEP’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/deep/WildlifeMagazine ), which will highlight WSFR projects and successes from the past 75 years. You also can visit the wildlife section of the DEEP’s Web site at www.ct.gov/deep/wsfr75 . More information about the WSFR Program and its 75th Anniversary in 2012 is also available at: