HAVE you praised a politician recently? You should if you are a Connecticut citizen. In Hartford and Washington, our representatives outdid themselves this spring to protect the wildlife we are learning to value more as it becomes rarer.
Given all the other difficult matters on the agenda, including considerable squabbling over taxes, it is a bit of a miracle that United States Representatives Stewart B. McKinney and Bruce A. Morrison were able to parley the Nature Conservancy's proposal to buy Chimon Island, off Norwalk, into a new Connecticut Coastal National Wildlife Refuge that also includes Sheffield Island, Milford Point at the mouth of the Housatonic, and Falkner Island, an old Coast Guard light station off Madison.
In Hartford, Senators Eric R. Benson of Lebanon and Fred H. Lovegrove Jr. of Fairfield shepherded an Act Establishing a Program for the Conservation of Nonharvested Wildlife through several committees and a public hearing. On the last day of the legislative session, both the State House of Representatives and Senate passed it unanimously.
Why does all this matter? There has been a slow but significant and worrisome decline in wildlife numbers in this generation, and we need to counter it. Since the decline is the result of rising human numbers and our remaking of the landscape, the way to counter it is to provide more space for breeding and feeding areas for sensitive species, and for more people to be alert to the needs of the many wildlife species that need help.
Sometimes, a slight modification in the timing of what we wish to do outdoors is all that is needed. For example, those who mow tall grass meadows can avoid destroying the young of grassland birds by delaying the mowing operation until the young birds are awing.
But, again, why does it matter? Increasingly, psychologists, historians and other students of mankind are telling us that we need nature's diversity as points of reference, things to learn from and things we can depend on. The things we build for ourselves - our cities, commodities, arts, etc. - change too fast, and people seem increasingly to be losing their bearings.
Carl Jung once said that people who grow up without knowing nature are neurotic. Of course, not everyone agrees about this as yet, but it is wise to play safe. The great wildlife expert Aldo Leopold once said that the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save the parks. We are tinkering with the ecosystems of the world, and do not yet know enough about these natural systems to know how much tinkering they will stand, and whether we can retreat safely if we suddenly find ourselves overextended.
The new Connecticut Coastal National Wildlife Refuge now protects essential nesting areas for herons and terns, but we will need to insure that adequate feeding areas remain available. The protection of salt marshes and tidal flats, along with inland wetlands, is thus essential to a balanced program.
Ironically, just as we are properly concerned about the decline in numbers of many species, a few species are actually increasing. The handsome black and white oystercatcher, a red-billed shorebird, almost as big as a crow, is one. A century ago it vanished from Long Island Sound, but at least half a dozen pairs nested here this spring. Birds such as the cardinal and the mockingbird that favor the edges of the woods are also increasing, but mostly because we continue to invade the woodlands around suburban areas. In such areas, woodland birds that favor the deep shadows, such as wood thrushes and oven-birds, may be declining.
And the raccoon is often a nuisance, giving the false impression that there is as much wildlife as ever. On the contrary, the least tern and the piping plover, both of which nest on shingle beaches, are having trouble hanging on in Connecticut. We know that this is entirely a result of too much human disturbance of their nesting beaches during less than three months each spring. We can manage the beaches for these birds during April, May and June, and enjoy the beaches for ourselves in July, August and September. Every coastal town should manage at least one beach for these birds.
I was particularly happy to see Connecticut give its Department of Environmental Protection the new mandate to conserve nonharvested wildlife, the so-called nongame species, meaning those that are not hunted. Only about 10 percent of all the wildlife in Connecticut is on the hunted list; a maximum of 40 species are hunted or fished. About 400 species are not, and most of these are the shore birds and songbirds.
Although the appropriation provided is only $50,000, it will enable the Bureau of Wildlife to employ another biologist and begin the task of becoming familiar with all the rare species and their needs.
Connecticut was the first state to protect its hawks and owls by law (about 40 years ago), but it is the 43d state to adopt a nongame wildlife conservation program. Better late than never. The impressive thing, once we got into the act, was that 60 conservation-minded citizen groups, led by the Connecticut Audubon Society and including the Connecticut Sportsmen's Alliance, so impressed the legislators about the importance of this bill that it finally won unanimous approval.
Also, the legislature, with special help from Senator James H. McLaughlin and Representatives T. J. Casey and Stanley J. Krawiec, gave unanimous approval to a Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust program, authorizing a public-private partnership in acquiring and managing open-space properties.
As a longtime resident of the Nutmeg State, I am proud of these accomplishments and urge more citizens to join and support the numerous groups that created the public demand that makes 1986 a banner year for environmental awareness in Connecticut.
drawing of nongame bird silhouettes (from ''A Field Guide to the Birds'')