Good Government Stories

What is Conte Refuge?

About the Refuge

Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge was established in 1997 to conserve, protect and enhance the abundance and diversity of native plant, fish and wildlife species and the ecosystems on which they depend throughout the 7.2 million acre Connecticut River watershed. Legislators made the charge so comprehensive because they realized that, in order to protect migratory fish and other aquatic species, there was a need to protect the whole river system and its watershed; the health of any aquatic ecosystem is linked to the health of the whole watershed upstream. It is one of only three refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System that has Fish in its title.

The watershed covers large areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It contains a great diversity of habitats, notably: northern forest valuable as nesting habitat for migrant thrushes, warblers and other birds; rivers and streams used by shad, salmon, herring and other migratory fishes; and an internationally significant complex of high-quality tidal fresh, brackish and salt marshes.

The refuge works in partnership with a wide variety of individuals and organizations to provide environmental education, to encourage and support appropriate habitat conservation and management on public and private lands, and to protect habitat.

Come Visit

The refuge has three cooperative education centers: in Colebrook, New Hampshire; at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont; and the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

The Refuge currently owns a number of parcels in the four-state watershed, ranging from a 4-acre island in Massachusetts to 26,000 acres in the Nulhegan Basin in northeast Vermont.

Congressman Silvio O. Conte had “…a dream that includes a Connecticut River, cleaned, fishable, swimmable, and with salmon restored to abundant numbers. And a dream that someday my children and grandchildren will continue to enjoy the outdoors as I have, and not be saddled with a planet polluted beyond repair.” In 1991, he asked Congress to establish a National Wildlife Refuge to protect the watershed of the river and its wildlife resources. In 1997 the refuge named in his honor was established to fulfill that dream.