As part of the revision of the Wildlife Acton Plan, two sets of maps have been updated and released for use by conservation planners, landowners, land trusts, biologists and others. The two existing habitat-based maps have been redone with the latest available information, and a new third map was created for surface water habitat types (lakes, ponds, rivers and streams). For those of you new to the Plan, the first two maps have been around since 2006 and were updated in 2010. One is a habitat map, showing where the different types of wildlife habitat are located throughout the state. The other map shows where habitat exists in the best ecological condition – based on biodiversity, arrangement of habitat types on the landscape, and lack of human impacts.
The revised habitat map includes more habitat types. Locations of swamps (forested wetlands) are mapped, which was something users had asked for. This time, the map is based on a regional habitat classification and mapping dataset that covers the area from Virginia into Canada. Those of you living in border towns can now see what habitats are in all your neighboring towns. The regional dataset has more finely delineated habitat types, so we have grouped some into our original habitat types, but all the original regional data is still there for those of you who use GIS (the mapping software). Since the regional dataset was based more on current condition than our old data, you will see differences in the maps from the previous ones. For instance, there is a lot less lowland spruce-fir forest mapped now, because our original data included more predicted habitat based on soils and other information, and the regional dataset has much more actual data to use. This new dataset is more accurate as a result. These maps are a great starting point for planning and conservation projects. The information is still based on a model, as we do not have information on every place in NH, so going out onto the land and looking at what is actually there is recommended – and a lot of fun!
The surface waters habitat map will come out in March. The delay is due to the regional dataset for lakes and ponds being improved and updated, so we will update our draft version prior to releasing it. Rivers and streams are classified by stream size, temperature, gradient and geology (buffering capacity). Lakes and ponds are classified by temperature – coldwater ones separated from warmwater. This is an important distinction for biologists and planners, since water temperature often determines the aquatic wildlife that can live there. When the surface water dataset becomes available to the public, there will be more information included such as depth and geology.
The Highest Ranked Wildlife Habitat by Ecological Condition map, commonly called the Wildlife Action Plan map, looks quite a bit different than the previous version released in 2010. This is not because the habitat has changed, but our ability to discern what places on the landscape are in better ecological condition has gotten better. Part of this is due to better habitat data. There is also a lot more location data for rare species, thanks to the research we have done and to the many people who sent us their wildlife observations through the Wildlife Sightings website at nhwildlifesightings.unh.edu. Another reason is that we have much better data on landscape factors – how habitats are laid out and interconnected across the landscape, and human impacts – and how the individual factors such as roads and development interact with other human-caused problems to affect wildlife. As before, habitats are put into one of three rankings: highest ranked in the state, highest ranked in the biological region (9 regions), and supporting landscapes.
There are two questions that are asked frequently. First, “why is this land pink (indicating that it is highest ranked habitat)?” Since there are so many types of data included in the analysis, it is not possible to tell if it was high biodiversity or landscape connectedness or complexity or lack of human impacts, that helped elevate that piece of land to highest ranked. The data does indicate whether that land has an add-in, a known occurrence of a rare animal, plant or exemplary natural community within the habitat patch or near enough to move into the patch. The data doesn’t show which rare species or community is there. It also identifies which type of habitat is highest ranked.
The second most commonly asked question is “what does it mean that this land that was pink (highest ranked) now is not?” This situation does not necessarily mean that the habitat has become degraded. You would have to look at the land itself to see if that was true – for example, has it been developed or has development occurred nearby? In fact, most changes are likely due to the more accurate data that was used during this update; data that was not previously available. Some are concerned that the change will affect conservation projects already in process. When the maps were first updated in 2010, there weren’t any reports of land protection projects that were affected by this change in rank.
Maps of your town are available on the NH Fish and Game website and the GIS data is available on GRANIT. For those of you that do not have GIS capacity you can use the GRANITView II, granitviewii.unh.edu, a free online program, or use a consultant or your Regional Planning Commission. Printable town maps are available here. More information on how to use the Wildlife Action Plan maps is available on the NH Fish & Game website.
By Emily Preston, NH Fish & Game
Winter 2016 Taking Action for Wildlife Newsletter