Marking 20 years of Highlands Act success with Sen. Murphy

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) visits People’s State Forest to celebrate two decades of the federal Highlands Conservation Act. Seated from left to right are DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, FWS Reg. Dept. Director Kyla Hastie, and HVA Conservation Director Tim Abbott.

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Marking 20 years of Highlands Act success with Sen. Murphy

BARKHAMSTED — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), visited the People’s State Forest in Barkhamsted Thursday, June 27, to celebrate 20 years of the federal Highlands Conservation Act, one of the most important sources of public funding for land protection in northwest Connecticut. The event was hosted by Housatonic Valley Association.

Designed to support thousands of local jobs, preserve historic sites, and protect clean water supply for 20 million people, The Highlands Conservation Act allows states to access matching federal funding for projects to promote conservation, tourism, and recreation in the region.

The Highlands Region of the Northeastern United States consists of forested mountains and hills stretching from Connecticut, through New York and New Jersey, to Pennsylvania. It also gives these four states resources to conserve land and natural resources, in particular a clean water supply essential for serving more than 20 million people.

Other speakers at the Barkhamsted event included USFWS Deputy Regional Director Kyla Hastie and the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or her designee. Tim Abbott, Conservation Director at the Housatonic Valley Association, welcomed guests and moderated the event.

“$105 million in Highlands grant funding has been administered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which has protected 16,226 acres. Connecticut has led the way, with 5,893 acres conserved to date, leveraging the federal investment with state, municipal and private funding,” Abbott explained.

Highlands transactions in Connecticut typically combine Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition grants from DEEP to land trusts and municipalities with easements partially funded with a Highlands grant requiring a 1:1 non-federal match. Many land trusts and several towns in northwestern Connecticut have received as much as 90% of the funding needed to purchase and conserve important places in their communities.

“Senator Murphy has been a strong supporter of the Highlands Conservation Act, both in his role on the Senate Appropriations Committee which has helped fully fund the Highlands grant program since through multiple sessions of Congress, and as the Senate Sponsor of the successful reauthorization of the Highlands Conservation Act through FY28,” Abbott stated.

“The reauthorization helps expand Highlands’ eligibility to other communities beyond the current 26 Town Highlands Region in Connecticut, and eleven more have formally expressed their desire to be included. The act also allows public entities at the county or municipal level to receive Highlands funds directly to hold conservation interest, rather than just DEEP,” Abbott added.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) administers the Highlands program, in close partnership with the Housatonic Valley Association which is represented with DEEP on the four-state Highlands Steering Committee. HVA provides maps, data, staff and transaction support to DEEP and our land trust partners to successfully secure and deploy Highlands funding in our region.

“Two very large Highlands projects totaling nearly 1,800 acres are scheduled to close this summer in Colebrook and Winchester, and others are anticipated in Salisbury, Sharon, and Warren, Connecticut among other communities in the coming year,” Abbott explained.

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