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LITCHFIELD — A report released by the U.S. Department of Forestry, in part with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, shows resource conservation has improved, but work remains to be done.

In a joint press conference April 19 at White Memorial Hall in Litchfield, the two governmental agencies provided highlights of the Connecticut Highlands Regional Study’s 2010 Update. According to officials, 677,880 acres of the state’s natural resources were assessed to manage future growth, maintain adequate surface and ground water, conserve forests, provide recreational opportunities and promote economic prosperity through it all.

“This area has done an excellent job of land conservation,” said Mary Tyrrell, executive director for Yale’s Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry. “We’re still not able to say if the forests are healthy or not, though 90 percent of trees are healthy.”

Tyrrell said it is important for local lawmakers to remain active in conserving the forests and resources.

“They are really important to the Highlands,” she said.

Though the study includes the four states of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, locally, it refers to the Highlands as areas surrounding the Housatonic and Farmington River basins, covering the entire western side of the state. The conservation effort isn’t simply a federal issue, but will take all levels of government to cooperate for the best-case scenario.

“We have very limited resources these days,” said State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30). “We want to spend it in places where we get the most bang for our buck. It takes groups from the federal, state and local level all working together.”

All levels were present at the conference, and each had a different take on the report with its benefits and potential improvements. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty saluted the private owners of these lands as a cornerstone to the current conservation efforts.

“We cannot as government agencies succeed in conservation with current [agendas],” Esty said. “We will not make it over the long term without the private landholders.”

Appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Esty said his job was to pursue the environmental agenda best suited for the state. Part of that may come with the growing invasive species in the water resources.

According to Tyrrell, the lone scientist at the hearing, six percent of the area had more than 25 percent of the invasive species.

Esty said that in 1860, Connecticut had the least amount of forest land it had ever seen. Due to deforestation laws and the decline of industry, Esty said the forests have made an “incredible comeback.”

According to the Forest Service, this region was recognized as having national significance to the United States.

The Federal Highlands Conservation Act of 2004 mandates the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture to complete a report identifying “areas having high conservation values in the States of Connecticut and Pennsylvania in a manner similar to that utilized in the Study and Update.”

Northeast Field Rep. for the Forest Service Terry Miller said the public release of the study can help facilitate the promotion and incentives coming with good forest conservation. He said these areas “deserve special protection” and will be used for future protection to “fulfill the vision outlined in the study.”

The study will be a guideline for the parties interested in making sure the surrounding resources are protected. And according to Roraback, “Now the real work begins.”

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Extpub | by Dr. Radut