As of June 2012, the refuge is comprised of 35,371 acres extending from northern Vermont and New Hampshire to southern Connecticut. The Nulhegan Basin Division in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom accounts for 26,738 acres. There are two divisions in northern New Hampshire (Pondicherry and Blueberry Swamp), three in Massachusetts (Fort River, Mill River, and Westfield River), and one in Connecticut (Salmon River). These divisions account for 34,783 acres or 98 percent of the refuge acreage. The remaining refuge land is made up of smaller "units" which are located in Vermont (1), Massachusetts (5), and Connecticut (2).
Natural resource managers are just beginning to grapple with how to protect biodiversity effectively. In the recent past, society has preserved a great deal of land chosen for a variety of purposes (i.e. scenic, recreational, economic). Society has also acted to conserve many individual species where they are economically useful or already critically endangered. Past efforts have been successful in a limited way, but we are continuing to lose biodiversity, as evidenced by the ever increasing number of threatened and endangered species and lost or degraded natural communities.
Species extinction is only the last and most obvious stage of biotic impoverishment. Of greater long term concern is the degradation of ecosystems and landscapes. Measures of ecosystem loss or dysfunction are not as straightforward as species extinctions, in part because ecosystems are much less easy to classify.
Noss and Cooperrider (1994)
To maintain the biodiversity of an area, it is necessary to:
- preserve representatives of all native ecosystem types and successional stages;
- maintain viable populations of all native species; and
- maintain ecological and evolutionary processes which drive the system.
Maintaining intact, functional examples of each type of ecosystem in the region is assumed to automatically preserve all the species living in these ecosystems. This is called the "coarse filter" approach. Some sensitive or endemic species will fall through the pores and a complementary "fine filter" examination of and provision for the needs of these species must also occur. Maintaining processes is necessary in order to keep the system vital. It is impossible to "preserve" natural systems by trying to lock them up; they need to be subjected to the natural conditions, including disturbances, that have shaped and maintained them.
To accomplish the goals mentioned above, we must:
- know what biodiversity exists;
- understand the processes at work;
- understand the threats which exist;
- see how well our patchwork of already reserved lands and land use regulations protect all the components; and
- offer ways to fill in the gaps to complete the protection of biodiversity.
Approaches which protect biodiversity "hotspots" as inviolate "core" areas, attempt to buffer these "core sites" from external effects by influencing the land uses surrounding them, and maintain population exchanges between them by connecting them with corridors (which can be a lightly used or semi wild matrix or protected land) have been recommended (Noss and Cooperrider 1994).
Put forth a bold vision of what it might take to maintain all the biodiversity in a region and then work out the details later. The vision will provide direction and motivation for all subsequent work. Noss and Cooperrider (1994)
Many state agencies and non-governmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, The Trust for Public Land, The Trustees of Reservations, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and many other land trusts are helping to protect land. back to top
Special Focus Areas
In order to accomplish the purposes of the Conte Act, areas which contribute substantially or in unique ways to protecting the fish, birds, federally listed species, wetlands, and overall biodiversity within the watershed were identified as part of the 1995 Environmental Impact Statement. Although all of the undeveloped area of the watershed, especially dedicated open space lands, are important to the purposes of the Act, limited areas which significantly support the Act's purposes were chosen as the areas where protection should be focused.
Specifically, areas providing the following biological values were identified:
- habitat for federally listed (endangered, threatened or candidate) species;
- habitat for a number of rare species and/or rare or exemplary natural communities;
- important fisheries habitat (previously discussed under "Important Fish Areas";
- important wetlands;
- habitat for water birds (waterfowl, herons, rails);
- the potential to protect a substantial area of contiguous habitat for declining area & sensitive species;
- large blocks of unusual habitat type; and
- landbird breeding and migratory stopover habitat.
Areas exhibiting these values are referred to as "Special Focus Areas."
These Special Focus Areas also incorporate many of the important, scarce and vulnerable wetlands identified in the Regional Wetlands Concept Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Oct. 1990 and many of the rare species and community occurrence sites.
Each focus area has been assigned a priority of high, medium or low. Because of the varied and often multiple biological values of the focus areas, it is difficult to set absolute priorities; for example, one cannot compare the value of waterbirds against landbirds or fisheries. Generally, the more biological resource categories present at a site, the more valuable the site overall. However, the overall importance of the site to a particular category was also weighed. For example, all sites with value to rare species are not the same. Some have more diversity or greater numbers of the rarer W 1 or W 2 species. All factors, therefore, were not rated equally, nor was the same factor always weighed as importantly. The only exception was that the category for federally listed endangered or threatened species which always received a high priority rank both for biological reasons and because endangered species protection is the Service's highest priority by policy. While guiding the overall effort, these priorities will remain flexible to enable the Service to take advantage of opportunities which may arise with other partners or through bargain sales, and in responding to imminent threats to critical parcels.
The areas identified range in size from a few acres to 68,900 acres. Since their biological values have already been recognized, many of the areas contain parcels already owned by various conservation organizations. Some of these areas already have 5% to 82% of their area protected in this way. The total area identified is 179,665 acres. The areas already protected as dedicated open space total 37,750 acres. This leaves 141,915 acres of Special Focus Areas which need protection.
Several small wetlands from the Regional Wetlands Plan, which are scattered elsewhere in the watershed, also need protection. Similarly, although some species and community types would be adequately protected by Special Focus Areas, there are a number of rare species and community types which need to have small, scattered occurrence sites protected. It is estimated that about 500 small, scattered rare species and community occurrence sites require protection. These sites will need additional study to verify their quality and continuing importance to the particular species. Many of these locations are confidential to protect collectable species, so they are not listed. As new information becomes available, it will be reviewed and verified sites will be added to the list for protection. The size of the sites protected will range from 1 to 100 acres, depending on the species requirements and the landowner. Historic peregrine falcon nesting sites, Stacy Mountain and a snake hibernaculum in Massachusetts, and Great Pond in Connecticut are examples of these small, scattered sites. back to top
Table of Special Focus Areas and their respective values
Description of Special Focus Areas
Map of Special Focus Areas in Connecticut and Massachusetts
Map of Special Focus Areas in southern Vermont and New Hampshire
Map of Special Focus Areas in northern Vermont and New Hampshire