Celebrating 150 Years of Natural Resource Conservation in Connecticut

Celebrating 150 Years of Natural Resource Conservation in Connecticut

NARRATOR From the coastline of Long Island Sound, to the central river valleys, and across the eastern and western highlands, Connecticut is a state rich with natural resources. Our diverse landscapes provide habitat for a remarkable number of fish and wildlife. In the 1600s, the state’s colonists viewed the natural world as both a provider and an adversary. For these settlers, the land and water offered all they needed, with plenty to spare. Unfortunately this abundance would not last. Over the next 200 years, a growing population placed a greater demand on the state’s natural resources. Forests were cleared to establish farmland and provide wood for fuel and lumber for housing. Many rivers were dammed and streams were choked with sediment from eroding soil. Fish and wildlife were harvested at will to provide food and fur. Some wildlife, such as wolf, bobcat, and bear, were viewed as “harmful beasts” needing to be eliminated to protect livestock and crops. By the mid 1800s most of the state’s forest, fish and wildlife resources, which once seemed limitless, were gone. Connecticut’s leaders took action and in 1866 passed legislation creating a Fisheries Commission. Over the next 30 years, this commission worked to restore fish populations by establishing catch limits and stocking millions of native fish, such as salmon, shad, flounder, and brook trout. They introduced new fish, including bass, bluegill, carp, and rainbow and brown trout. In 1895, efforts were expanded to protect Connecticut’s wildlife and the Commission was renamed the “State Commission of Fisheries and Game. ” Soon after, Special Protectors were appointed to assist local wardens in the enforcement of all fish and game laws. In 1901, a State Forester was designated to address the reforestation of barren lands. Connecticut now had a solid foundation to move forward with restoration, conservation, and preservation of its natural resources. This led to many successes over the next few decades — lakes and ponds were once again brimming with fish, whitetail deer were on the increase, and cleared land was returning to forest. Commission records documented a vibrant commercial fishery, with Connecticut ports landing over 15 million pounds of fish and shellfish annually. Following World War II, the nation experienced unprecedented industrial growth. Advances in chemistry, engineering, and power supply enabled mass production of many goods. Waste products from manufacturing and everyday life were treated by simply burying, discharging to rivers, or burning. By the late 1960s, environmental problems had reached a crisis point. Smoggy cities and polluted rivers were an increasingly common sight. Toxic chemicals were killing fish and wildlife. Connecticut addressed this new challenge by passing innovative legislation such as its Clean Water Act of 1967 that required improved treatment of sewage and industrial wastewater. To further address air, water and waste pollution, Connecticut created the Department of Environmental Protection in 1971. This new agency also brought together a number of separate boards and commissions, including those focused on fish, forests, and wildlife. Advances in technology enabled its scientists to better track and collect data on the range, population sizes, and the health of our plants and animals. Connecticut has enjoyed great successes, such as the return of osprey, wild turkey and bald eagle, and the restoration of habitat for many other plants and animals. Today almost 60% of our state is covered in forest and some species are reaching numbers not seen for over 300 years. Each year, our natural resources support over 9,000 jobs and contribute more than one billion dollars to the state’s economy. Being densely populated, Connecticut is continually presented with challenges to its natural resources– such as loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat, and competition from invasive plants and animals. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Natural Resources continues to foster the partnerships developed over the past 150 years. Wildlife and Forestry Action Plans, created and supported by these diverse groups, provide the direction and guidance needed to addresses problems now facing our resources. We must continue to work together and share this information so that future generations can enjoy Connecticut’s natural beauty. The words of the State Board of Fish and Game Commissioners in 1926 still resonate today. FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER Our policy must therefore lie along the line of … providing opportunity to all who appreciate the best things in life [and] go afield for the benefit of body, mind, and spirit. Youth and old age have a right to demand this of us. We must not disappoint them for we are the trustees of their generation.

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