Habitat-mapping project to guide land conservation

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BETHEL — To better determine on which lands to focus conservation efforts, the Mahoosuc Land Trust will soon embark on a project to map ecologically significant landscapes in the Bethel area.

Executive Director Jim Mitchell said on Friday morning that the first-of-its-kind project in the area is still being formulated.

Trust members and technical advisors will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, in the trust office on Route 2 in Bethel to determine necessary criteria.

“It’s all a little technical from my point of view, because I’m not a technical person or a scientist,” Mitchell said.

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“We’re going to try to integrate a lot of the material that’s already in the Beginning with Habitat mapping, and the group that we’re bringing together are people with a deeper knowledge of the area biology and what we’re looking for,” he said. “We hope they will help us link the criteria that we’re going to use.”

Mitchell said money to fund the work is coming from the Davis Conservation Foundation, which was established in 1989 by the Davis family, which used to own Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc.

Beginning with Habitat is a federal, state, local and non-governmental collaboration designed to help local decision makers create a vision for their community, to design a landscape, and to develop a plan that provides for all species and balances future development with conservation, according to its website.

On a landscape scale, it takes a habitat-based approach to conserving wildlife and plant habitat.

The program’s goal is to maintain sufficient habitat to support all native plant and animal species currently breeding in Maine.

According to the website, 80 to 95 percent of all of Maine’s terrestrial vertebrate species would likely be present in ecologically significant areas if these habitats and blocks are strategically protected in an interconnected landscape.

That is determined by overlaying maps of habitat needs of these species with Maine’s primary land cover types — forests, fields and wetlands — in a geographic information system.

“The purpose of the project is to help us focus on areas for land conservation,” Mitchell said.

For example, if they have two competing projects and limited resources, “we’d be able to look at what we have and say that this area is where we should put our focus on instead of this area, based on the map criteria.”

Mitchell said that much of the criteria is already in databases, like undeveloped habitat blocks, undeveloped or unfragmented forest blocks, river corridors, great pond corridors, wetlands, wildlife habitat, deer-wintering areas, vernal pools, roosting areas, rare species occurrences, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Priority Trust Species habitats.

Priority Trust Species habitats are forest and grassland, and freshwater and saltwater wetlands.

“The maps already exist, but then there’s a whole lot of layers that make up this (new) map,” Mitchell said. “It’s quite technical, and we’re going to try to put all those layers together.”

Doing so, can enable planning to maintain quality of place allowing future generations to fish, hunt, photograph or watch wildlife while attracting new economic opportunities due to accessible green space and rich recreational offerings, the Habitat’s website states.

“They did a mapping in several towns in the very southern part of the state and they came out with co-occurrence maps, which basically map the intensity of any criteria that occurs more than once on a particular piece of land,” Mitchell said.

“It’s a really nice tool for a land trust to use when we have the opportunity to conserve land,” he said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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