Springfield Picked For Urban Wildlife Conservation Program

Sep 14, 2015

A banner on a railing in Springfield's Riverfront Park announces the Springfield Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership designation.
Credit WAMC

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts has been recognized by the federal government for environmental stewardship.  With the designation comes some money for a project to restore an urban conservation area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday designated the Springfield Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership.  It is a cooperative effort to promote conservation values with urban residents, especially young people, according to Deborah Rocque, the northeast deputy regional director for the wildlife service.

" Youth is huge component of our urban partnerships," she said.

 With the designation, Springfield joins 16 other communities in the wildlife service’s urban conservation program including Chicago, Seattle and Baltimore, where the initiative was launched three years ago and has grown.

There are 13 local organizations participating in the program led by ReGreen Springfield. The others include the city’s public schools, UMass Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, and the Springfield Museums.

" We find that these partnerships just keep on growing and once they get rolling they bring in more and more partners and more money and just gain momentum," said Rocque.

David Bloniarz, president of ReGreen Springfield, said it is an exciting designation for Springfield.

" The goal of the partnership is to connect people to the environment and through that connection it is going to provide us a great opportunity for people to experience the urban landscape as we envision it as natural resource managers," said Bloniarz.

In addition to the designation, there is a $40,000 grant from an urban waters restoration program. Matching funds from the project’s partners bring the total to almost $250,000.

The money will be used to restore the Abbey Brook Conservation area, a 1.5 mile stream that originates in east Springfield and ends in the Chicopee River.  The waterway and the mostly wooded area it flows through is eroded and contaminated.

" But, we feel it is a great resource with old stature trees and a lot of wildlife in there that really provides a great learning opportunity," said Bloniarz.

The announcement of the designation was made in front of a group of about 75 people at Springfield’s Riverfront Park.   Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield said the distinction is a credit to grassroots support in the city’s neighborhoods.

ReGreen Springfield, the lead organization in the local partnership, was formed by government agencies, community groups, and businesses in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado that destroyed thousands of  trees in Springfield.

The organization’s mission is to reforest the city and restore the urban tree canopy.