SHC in Action in the Connecticut River Watershed
Connecticut River. Credit: USFWS.
Developing a Shared Vision
The Service’s Northeast Region is working with the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and dozens of partner agencies and organizations to develop a shared blueprint for prioritizing and informing conservation investments and actions in the 7.2 million-acre Connecticut River watershed.
Encompassing the largest river system of New England, the watershed boasts a diversity of habitats stretching from coastal salt marshes in Connecticut to alpine tundra in New Hampshire. It is also home to more than two million people living in four states.
State partners recognize the value of conservation planning at this scale.
“No one is doing this scale of conservation planning at the regional level, so it’s incredibly important,” says Eric Sorenson, an ecologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “It also makes it a high priority for us to get it right.”
Focus on Species
This pilot landscape conservation planning and design effort exemplifies Strategic Habitat Conservation in action as envisioned by the architects of the NEAT report in 2006. It is driven by population objectives for 14 identified surrogate species – including black bear, woodcock and brook trout – that represent the habitat needs of many other species within the watershed. And for the first time, partners now have the regional context and scientific horsepower (through tools and information developed by the North Atlantic LCC) to:
- identify specific habitat needs within the watershed – what kind, how much, and where – to sustain these species at desired population levels;
- determine the Connecticut River watershed’s contribution to regional-scale habitat needs for sustaining fish and wildlife populations in the Northeast; and
- understand and plan for changing habitats due to climate change and development (out to the year 2080).
“We have really high goals for what we want the watershed to become, and that requires a whole lot of really good scientific and technical information so that we know where to put our resources,” says Andy Fisk of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. “So from our vantage point a project like this is going to be very helpful, because it will pull the best science together, have the best people evaluate that science, and make good decisions with that information.
Fisk adds that by monitoring and reporting results, project partners will be better able to demonstrate to conservation funders – both private foundations and the public – the benefits provided by these strategic investments.
Aligning Efforts, Targeting Investments
The resulting conservation blueprint or design will allow FWS land and habitat management programs to strategically align efforts with conservation partners to achieve shared goals for species and habitats within the watershed. Managers will know where the best habitat is to sustain these species at desired population levels and target conservation investments accordingly.
“When you’re looking at things from a landscape scale, typically that’s something that’s going to span state boundaries and geopolitical designations. Wildlife doesn’t move (within those designations), so it’s much more of a natural thing for many critters,” says Jenny Dickson of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. “In many cases it’s a much more effective way to accomplish conservation of species and habitats.”
All of this adds up to measurable gains for fish, wildlife and plants and the natural benefits they provide to people living in the watershed.
Collaboration -- Start to Finish
The resulting landscape conservation design for the watershed is targeted for completion late Summer, 2014. The pilot also will establish a conservation planning and design process that can be applied in geographies throughout the Northeast region and beyond.
The core team of more than 30 partners guiding the pilot effort include the four state fish and wildlife agencies of the watershed; nongovernmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, and Audubon Connecticut; and federal agencies including USGS and U.S. EPA. The North Atlantic LCC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are facilitating the pilot.