Artistic rendering of a blue sky and forest muted in colors of blue, green and yellow.
2023 Connecticut Annual Report Cover of the 2023 Annual Report for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut © The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Connecticut

Connecticut Annual Report 2023

Thanks to your support, we accomplished so much in 2023.

An artistic rendering features a person with a hat releasing a bird into nature.
Frogard Ryan An artistic rendering of Frogard Ryan features The Nature Conservancy's Connecticut state director releasing a bird into the wild. © The Nature Conservancy

From the Director

Nature communicates with us in many ways—in the glow of fireflies in the summer, in the crunch of leaves in the fall. In wind and waterfalls, in blossoms and birdsong. And from our very first days on this Earth, we learn how to listen to this language without words; to use our bodies, our instincts and our senses to tune into the cues nature provides.

Often, when nature speaks to us, it’s a signal that change is coming . . . that a new season is on the horizon. As a child, I learned that spring had arrived when I could hear the hum of bumblebees searching for wildflowers. As spring gave way to summer, nature spoke to me in the sweetness of raspberries picked directly from the bush. In autumn, a cool breeze on my face meant it was time to take our wool sweaters out of the closet. And I remember watching anxiously out my bedroom window for the first snowflakes to fall and signal the start of winter.

Right now, nature is speaking to us again as more change comes our way. But this time, the language is different, and the message is far more urgent. In Connecticut, The Nature Conservancy is witnessing events that, until recently, were not imaginable. From the catastrophic flooding that brought destruction to towns and cities right here in northwest Connecticut and Vermont, to the devastating Canadian wildfires that darkened our skies, to the Maui wildfires that happened far across the country in the Pacific Ocean. Each of these events had an irreversible impact on both nature and human life. And in each, what we hear is not an invitation—it is a desperate cry for help, as we are confronted with the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The question we must ask ourselves is: How will we respond?

Thanks to the tremendous support from each and every one of you, and our partners here in Connecticut and far beyond our borders, I am proud to say we’re finding ways to answer nature’s call. In the following pages, you’ll read about how we’re working on climate mitigation and adaptation solutions while also creating safe havens—in oceans, on lands and in rivers and streams—for the thousands of species threatened by biodiversity loss.

We are also leading new accessibility efforts that recognize the many different ways people connect with nature and honor those differences with new programming, visitor amenities and partnerships.

Each of these efforts is a response to nature; in each, we say: “We hear you. We are listening. Help is on the way.” And each of these projects is possible because of you.

As nature signals to us that it’s time for a new chapter—one that is asking us to be bolder and braver than we’ve ever been before—we respond with a promise to nature and ourselves, not just with our words, but with our actions, to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends.

A yellow bird stands in a brown nest.
Bird In Nest An artistic rendering of a yellow bird standing in a brown nest. © The Nature Conservancy

Conserving the Lands and Waters on Which All Life Depends

On ways to listen. It can mean sitting quietly in a park, waiting to hear what passing warbler might be singing in a tree nearby. It can mean spending time in your garden and sinking your hands into the earth. It can mean taking a child outside to search for animal tracks in the snow.

Here in Connecticut and around the world, The Nature Conservancy uses science to listen to nature. Through carefully collected data, we observe how plants, wildlife and habitats are changing. And increasingly, we are using social science to better understand—and change—human behavior.

In this way, TNC has been listening to nature for decades. Recently, we’re hearing something new: nature speaking in the urgent sound of alarm bells. Our logbooks show 100-year records being shattered in the form of unprecedented rainfalls, high temperatures, wildfires, high tides, ocean temperatures and melting sea ice. Our databases reveal populations of insects, migratory birds and other wildlife disappearing.

Without any words, nature is talking to us—screaming at us—to take bold action. And because each and every one of us is a part of nature, not separate from it, we must listen carefully and respond accordingly. One of the most effective ways we can do this is to give a voice to nature, to use what we’ve learned through science to speak up and speak out on behalf of the plants, wildlife and places we love, who have no words of their own. This year, as you’ll see on the adjacent map, that’s what we did across Connecticut. And we asked you, our supporters, to not only listen to nature but also to heed its call to invest in its—and our—future. 

A map of Connecticut of surrounded by facts that summarize the year.
2023 At A Glance The Nature Conservancy features some conservation wins achieved during 2023. © The Nature Conservancy
Brown floodwaters surround trees and a farm.
Connecticut Flooding Brown waters surround trees and an adjacent farm located near Bridgeport, Connecticut. © The Nature Conservancy

Finding the Flow in Bridgeport

On a hot summer day, a sudden thunderstorm darkens the sky. Thunder booms, lightning flashes and torrents of rain pour onto streets, parking lots, alleys and rooftops. With nowhere to go, the rain floods the gutters, drains and sewers designed to hold it, until it eventually begins to overwhelm the system, resulting in sewer backups, damaged homes and businesses or worse.

We’ve seen this kind of intense rain event happen here in Connecticut, in New England and around the world. And as the climate changes, even more are on the horizon. But imagine a scenario where those hard, impervious surfaces are replaced with rain gardens, wetlands and other natural infrastructure to store and filter the stormwater. To allow it to trickle slowly down into the soil, removing impurities along the way, so that it is clean, clear and ready to begin its journey all over again.

This is the goal of The Flow Project. Together with numerous partner organizations, TNC is looking to add green space to urban areas across Connecticut to soak up stormwater, improve water quality and provide other benefits to communities. Currently, TNC and partner organizations are focusing on bringing bioswales—carefully designed gardens nestled among sidewalks and parking lots—to the West Side and West End of Bridgeport. 

Quote: Ama Amoah

By opening our minds and hearts to what Mother Nature communicates, we can all find our own way to contribute and make a positive impact; for example, through recycling our waste, increasing use of public transportation and avoiding pesticides and other harmful products.

Member of TNC's Connecticut Board of Trustees

“A bioswale abuts sidewalks and guides water off the street in order to collect runoff, soak it into the ground and filter out pollution while simultaneously diverting this overflow from the sewer system,” says Drew Goldsman, urban conservation director in Connecticut. “But they have additional benefits, from battling the heat island effect, to providing habitat for birds and pollinators, to increasing access to nature in urban areas.”

At the start of the year, TNC and partners focused on GIS mapping to get a better understanding of where bioswales could be built in Bridgeport. We identified 120 locations where installation would not only be feasible but would have a measurable and positive impact on water quality and flood mitigation. After an in-field assessment, TNC and partners narrowed the list to 100 potential sites, which we are presenting to key stakeholders, including residents, for their input and feedback. 

To that end, as part of The Flow Project, TNC and partners have held several events to engage residents, hear their stories, learn about their goals for the neighborhood and find ways to collaborate. The events included street mural paintings and a tree planting effort that brought 40 trees to streets and yards across Bridgeport.

The face of an owl is highlighted with shades of green, brown, black and yellow.
Owl An artistic rendering of an owl features highlights of green, brown, yellow and black. © The Nature Conservancy

Linking Lands for Wildlife in Northwest Connecticut

While nature is sounding alarm bells in many parts of the country, as you step into the Berkshire Foothills, part of the Appalachian Mountains in the Northwest part of the state, you’ll hear something different. In the call of red-tailed hawks, the scent of wildflowers, the flow of cold-water rivers and streams and the dramatic sight of moose and picturesque summits, you’ll hear and see signs of hope.

The lands located between the Connecticut River and the New York border are known as the Berkshire Wildlife Linkage, part of The Nature Conservancy’s global “Focal Landscapes” initiative, which also includes similar landscapes in Kenya, Indonesia and Brazil. This geography has an estimated 75% forest cover and includes the most intact forest ecosystem in southern New England. It not only provides essential habitat to plants and wildlife today but will play a key role in fighting the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss tomorrow and in the years to come.

“The Berkshire Wildlife Linkage is part of what TNC calls the ‘Resilient and Connected Network,’” explains Sarah Pellegrino, Connecticut land protection manager. “These are undeveloped habitats across the country that are able to withstand the impacts of climate change, which means that by protecting them now, we give plants and wildlife a chance to move through these corridors and find new places to call home as the climate shifts.”

In 2023, we worked with partners and generous donors to add even more acres to the Berkshire Wildlife Linkage. We’re listening, Nature!

The first donation from Holley Atkinson and Stephen Plumlee consisted of 330 acres of land in Winchester, which will more than double the size of the existing Silas Hall Pond Preserve. Silas Hall Pond Preserve is part of a large network of open space, including Winchester town watershed land, land trust and other privately protected land, and Algonquin State Forest.

In addition, Julia Wilson and Eric Wilson had donated 16 acres in Canaan to expand Wangum Lake Brook Preserve, where TNC has already protected 435 acres (through a combination of ownership and easements). The preserve is close to an extensive complex of more than 7,000 acres of protected land that includes Housatonic State Forest, Canaan Mountain, Robbins Swamp and TNC’s Hollenbeck Preserve, among others.

An image of a bee from above.
Bee A bee is photographed from above. © The Nature Conservancy

Sowing Seeds of Inclusion

Communing and communicating with nature don’t look the same for everyone. Different people have different experiences with nature depending on a variety of factors. For some, nature is the lone tree growing in a sidewalk planter on their block that lowers the summer thermometer. For others, nature is a public park or beach to cool off or to watch the ocean in awe.

Those fortunate enough to have a deep relationship with nature are more likely to be active participants in her conservation. That’s why we are listening to and learning from the many voices who are speaking up on behalf of our lands and waters here in Connecticut, across the country and around the world. And in doing so, we’re finding new ways to connect with people at our preserves and project areas and new ways to protect them for future generations.

This story began when The Nature Conservancy identified the need to enhance and more efficiently support safe and inclusive access to our Connecticut preserves. In response to these needs we launched an internal, cross-functional Accessibility Implementation Team (AIT). Last year, the AIT selected a few priority projects that would improve not just physical access but also community access to our preserves and information about them.

We received internal funding through TNC’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) Action Fund for some of this work, which—when combined with private philanthropic support—have enabled the seeds of this effort to take root in many different ways. For example, we are translating informational materials into Spanish, and we have adopted an interactive and arts-based approach to community events that helps us understand what kinds of engagement opportunities appeal to potential preserve visitors. 

Quote: Dr. Robert Javonillo

When we can really tune in to what an ecosystem is telling us, we can better understand what nature might need from us as well.The Nature Conservancy is the preeminent organization for advocacy and action when nature itself cannot be directly heard by all.

Member of TNC's Connecticut Board of Trustees

At the core of much of this work is the understanding that inclusive access to nature begins with listening to the needs not only of nature but also of communities, developing authentic relationships and building trust.

“Over the course of recent tabling events, we became familiar with organizations that might be interested in partnering with us and started building relationships through organic conversations,” explains Sophie Duncan, equitable stewardship manager. “One of these is with Doreen Abubabkar of the Community Place-making Engagement Network (C-PEN), which is based in the Newhallville neighborhood in New Haven.”

This summer, the AIT worked with C-PEN to support the West River Watershed Conservation Crew, which provides environmental job training for youth and young adults in Newhallville and facilitates transformation of community green space at the West River, through a series of events and workshops both at the West River and our Burnham Brook Preserve.

The DEIJ Action Fund combined with donor support also allowed our team to provide the West River Watershed Conservation Crew with materials for community photography workshops that documented the possibility for transformation at the West River, as well as outdoor exploration materials that supported the needs of the program. 

Investing in this work is critical to better connecting people and nature. We look forward to working with, listening to and learning from more communities of people to make the places stewarded and protected by TNC in CT safer and more inclusive—while aligning with the ecological needs of our lands and waters on which all life depends.

Download the Full Report

  • A report cover features colors of blue, green and yellow.

    2023 Annual Report

    A look at highlights and conservation successes across Connecticut during 2023.