Poquetanuck conservation effort begins

Preston - Local leaders and representatives of conservation groups took the first steps Thursday toward the creation of a conservation action plan for Poquetanuck Cove.

Meeting at the Brookside Cafe, which has a deck overlooking the brackish intertidal cove on the Thames River, officials from Ledyard and Preston - the two towns on the cove - gathered with representatives of The Nature Conservancy, the Avalonia Land Conservancy, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District, and agreed to begin the process of developing a plan. The two conservancies and DEEP all preserve land along the cove.

The plan would identify threats to the cove, named a significant fish and wildlife habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It would name strategies and actions that should be taken to reduce threats from land development practices, erosion, road runoff and other pollutants and protect the cove's existing resources.

"We're trying to do a rapid conservation action plan here, within one year," said Holly Drinkuth, conservation coordinator for the community and natural resource planning program at CLEAR, the Center for Land Use Education and Research at the University of Connecticut.

The plan, she said, should be developed with input from a broad cross-section of groups with an interest in the cove.

"It can't just be the scientists and the conservationists doing this (plan). It needs to work for the towns," she said.

The plan, Drinkuth said, would be developed in three meetings between June and October. A draft plan would be presented to the two towns before the end of the year, with a final plan ready for adoption soon after that.

Jean Pillo, watershed conservation coordinator for the conservation district, said the goal is to have leaders of the two towns sign a compact to adopt the plan and its goals. Representatives of the town of North Stonington and the Mashantucket tribe, which own property within the cove's watershed, would be invited to participate in the development of the plan, she said.

Pillo said developing the plan is the logical next step that follows the progress made in removing invasive phragmites from the cove over the last four years. That project, she explained, began as a result of her work with the Thames River Basin Partnership, a group that represents Thames River towns.

j.benson@theday.com

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