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Biodiversity Crisis: The Science Behind Saving Homes for Wildlife

To slow the biodiversity crisis, bold conservation action is supported by the latest tools.

One of the reasons many of us love living in the Valley is knowing that wildlife of all kinds have a home here too.

Our region’s forests and wetlands provide habitat for a wide range of animals from moose and bear, to porcupines and river otters, to bats and flying squirrels. Wetlands and rivers are home to rare and important reptiles and amphibians, like bog and wood turtles and yellow spotted salamanders. Forests provide habitat for resident and migratory songbirds including black-throated blue warblers and wood thrush.

However, birds, insects, fish, mammals, and even plants are losing ground in terms of their populations—and they’re literally losing ground as habitats are developed, polluted, fragmented, and destroyed. One of the best ways to support all of this biodiversity is by conserving the lands and waters that provide the homes, food sources, breeding grounds, and conditions species need to thrive. Fortunately, habitat conservation is also a natural solution to climate change, which itself is a grave threat to biodiversity.

There are more than 430 species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act today, and that number could easily grow. This fall, Governor Maura Healey announced an executive order intended to spur state-wide action on this challenge. It directs the MA Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to review existing conservation efforts and elevate goals that will sustain a full array of plants, animals, and their habitats over the next three decades.

Regional land trusts play a critical role in assisting the Commonwealth with wildlife conservation efforts, using the most up-to-date scientific tools to identify the most important lands for wildlife and threatened species. One of these tools is called BioMap.

BioMap is the primary guide for strategic protection and stewardship of lands and waters that support biological diversity in Massachusetts. Produced by MassWildlife and The Nature Conservancy, BioMap uses innovative mapping capabilities and on the ground scientific data about species locations to deliver an interactive map that identifies areas with the most important habitat for conservation efforts.

BioMap sorts lands according to two primary categories: Core Habitat and Critical Natural Landscape (CNL):

  • Core Habitat identifies areas that are vital to sustain rare species, exemplary natural communities, and climate-resilient ecosystems.
  • Critical Natural Landscape identifies large landscape blocks that are minimally impacted by development, as well as lands that provide a buffer around core habitats.

These lands safeguard habitat connections between core habitat areas and improve resilience: the ability for the land to withstand disturbances while sustaining the health of its plant and animal communities.

When Kestrel works with landowners to assess their lands for conservation, our team relies on BioMap to find out whether the land is likely to provide habitat for threatened or endangered species or provides a buffer around those areas. We also look for undeveloped land connections between these higher priority habitats, which can provide critical corridors for wildlife to move across the landscape as climate changes modify their usual range.

One of our 2024 conservation efforts, the Mountain Waters Project in Southampton is just one example. Read about that here.

Bigger Is Better for Biodiversity
Western Massachusetts forests are nested within the Northern Appalachian ecosystem, which is among the largest remaining areas of intact ecologically significant forest in the world. These lands provide vital pathways for wildlife to migrate and adapt to a changing climate. Kestrel is part of two regional conservation partnerships working to protect these lands:

  • The Berkshire Wildlife Linkages “Staying Connected Initiative” focuses on lands within a 1.58-million-acre forested landscape from the Green Mountains in Vermont to the Hudson Highlands in New York. Kestrel protected 487 acres of forest in Northampton, Westhampton, and Southampton in this area this year. This includes 178 acres of forest in the Brewer Brook Forest area.
  • The Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership focuses on the 2 million acres of lands in the Monadnock Highlands of north-central Massachusetts and western New Hampshire, including the Quabbin Reservoir. Kestrel recently protected 197 acres in Sunderland, Leverett and Belchertown, including a 90-acre forest with three certified vernal pools as well as habitat for several rare or threatened species.

Find Wildlife Hotspots and Learn More!

 

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