Four landscapes across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states are strongly positioned to facilitate wildlife adaptation to climate change, according to the Open Space Institute’s analysis based on data from The Nature Conservancy’s Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation. Resilient landscapes are natural strongholds, providing habitat for a variety of plants and animals and benefits for humans, such as clean water, and potentially resistance to drought, flooding, rising temperatures and other threats associated with climate change.
Through the Resilient Landscape Initiative, OSI will provide $5.5 million in capital grants within four targeted areas.
OSI selected resilient landscapes that are all strongly positioned to facilitate wildlife adaptation to climate change:
This rural corner of Maine and New Hampshire harbors significant biodiversity amid a patchwork of conserved land. The northern limit of many species and the southern limit of others converge here, making it an ecological treasure trove: pine barrens, peatlands, ponds and river systems all contribute to the region’s diversity.
Aside from numerous regionally significant species that include amphibians, reptiles and insects, the region provides important ecological services for human society as well. The region, which abuts the White Mountain National Forest to the north, encompasses a significant part of the Upper Saco River watershed, which contains one of best remaining floodplain systems in northern New England, and a portion of the Sebago Lake watershed, the city of Portland’s drinking water supply.
The region is the focus of various national and statewide conservation groups, as well as a dozen small land trusts such as the Bearpaw Regional Greenways, Upper Saco Valley Land Trust and Loon Echo Land Trust, among others.
More than 80% of this 1.5 million acre region ranks as highly resilient. And nearly 50% of the area ranks as both resilient and complex offering a diversity of microclimates to species. Much of the Maine portion contains moderately limestone geology type that has relatively little representation in conservation and select portions contain geology types that are highly correlated with biodiversity, in particular limestone and coarse sands.
A little over half of the region ranks as highly connected. However, only 13% of the region’s resilient landscapes is currently conserved. A challenge is to conserve remaining large blocks of intact forest while balancing the needs for active forest management, housing, roads and agriculture.
Lying entirely within the watershed of the Connecticut River – America’s first National Blueway – the area boasts rich hardwood forests and clean, cold water streams. This region, spanning the border of Massachusetts and Vermont, lies on the western side of the Connecticut and includes portions of the West, Deerfield and Westfield River drainages.
Although development and agriculture fragment the landscape closer to the Connecticut River, much of the larger region remains forested and rural. The area contains significant forest blocks, many important mapped natural communities and several focus areas designated by the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge because of their critical terrestrial and aquatic species.
Protected areas are largely comprised of state forests and privately held conservation easements and preserves. Both states are actively engaged in conserving land with an eye to climate change and conservation groups, including Vermont Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust and Kestrel Land Trust, have significant capacity.
Located in the shadow of New York City, the focus area is one of the most ecologically intact, heavily forested, topographically varied and least developed landscapes in the Mid–Atlantic region. This 800,000-acre landscape is highly diverse, spanning several geologic features that include the eastern Pocono plateau, the Kittatiny Ridge, the Great Limestone Valley and the NJ Highlands. The region’s large intact forests play a critical role in recharging aquifers and streams supplying a significant portion of water to the Delaware River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies have recognized the area for its unusually biodiverse plant and animal communities.
The NJ Highlands portion of the area alone contains over 137 endangered, imperiled or rare plant species –- and over 70 state-listed animal species and 4 federally-listed species: Indiana bat, bog turtle, dwarf wedgemussel and bald eagle.
The Cacapon/Lost Rivers and the South Branch of the Potomac are the two least-developed major tributary watersheds of the main stem of the Potomac, giving them a vital role in feeding freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay. They are renowned among other things for their biodiversity. This one million acre landscape is a haven for four federally endangered species, including more than 40% of the world’s Virginia big-eared bats and the largest single colony of Indiana bats.
It harbors more than 120 state rare plant and animal species, and more than 40 species of greatest conservation need in West Virginia. Trout Unlimited has identified at least 22 large patches of quality native eastern brook trout habitat that are dependent on the protection of more than 93,000 acres across the landscape. And 1,000-foot deep Smoke Hole Canyon contains what may be the largest area of unique, under-protected limestone forest left in the Central Appalachians, supporting many rare plant communities.
Significant human uses of the landscape include agriculture in valleys, hunting on mountain slopes and ridges, and a variety of outdoor pursuits in places like Spruce-Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. These attractions, along with new major highway and potential wind energy development, will require focused and sustained effort to protect the landscape’s remaining large blocks of intact and forest.
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