Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge

Over the last 100 years, as shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have dwindled, populations of more than 60 mammals, songbirds, and other wildlife that depend on these thick habitats have fallen alarmingly.

prairie warbler

Prairie warblers will use thick vegetation created through habitat management on lands that will make up the Great Thicket Refuge./Jonathan Mays

Conservation partners, including state and federal agencies, have begun creating and rejuvenating shrublands and young forest throughout New England and eastern New York. Despite significant progress, more permanently protected and managed land is needed to help wildlife and to return balance and a diversity of forest age classes to the region’s woodlands.

To address that need, in October 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge in 10 separate parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.

"We intentionally created large focus areas that have within them smaller target acquisition areas," said Beth Goldstein, a realty specialist in the Service’s Northeast Regional Office. "This will give us the opportunity to work with local land protection partners to determine where are the missing pieces in the local land protection puzzle, and how the Service best fits into solving that puzzle" – all with the goal of safeguarding and managing the shrubland and young forest habitats needed by so many kinds of wildlife, including the New England cottontail.

In January 2017, federal, state and local officials gathered in Dover, New York, to mark the Service's first land acquisition for the refuge: 144-acre Nellie Hill Preserve, donated by The Nature Conservancy.

Great Thicket NWR Map

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will work with willing landowners, including land trusts and private individuals, to acquire lands in areas shown in yellow. These lands will make up the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge.

In building the new refuge, the Service will work only with willing and interested landowners to acquire land through conservation easements or fee-title acquisition. No one will be forced to sell land for the refuge.

Wendi Weber, the Service's Northeast Regional Director, stated that the tracts that will form the refuge will "benefit people by providing increased opportunities to view wildlife and enjoy the natural world."

Rick Jacobson is Wildlife Division Director in Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He noted progress in bringing back the New England cottontail, which is present in all 10 Great Thicket Refuge focus areas. However, he continued, the new refuge and the accompanying conservation effort "aren't just about a rabbit. They're about American woodcock, ruffed grouse, golden-winged warblers, monarch butterflies and the whole suite of wildlife that depend on young forest and shrubland."

Other wildlife that will benefit include box turtles, wood turtles, spotted turtles, whippoorwills, and blue-winged and prairie warblers, along with many more common species such as deer, wild turkeys, wood thrushes, and numerous other songbirds.

If you own acreage in a New England cottontail focus area and want to learn whether it might fit into the Great Thicket Refuge, contact Beth Goldstein, Realty Specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, MA,, 413-253-8564.