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To Save New England's Plants And Animals, New Report Calls for Conserving 2.3M Acres

Conservation Easement
Robert F. Bukaty
FILE- In this May 2004, file photo, the sun rises over the mountains east of Moosehead Lake, near Greenville, Maine. Plum Creek Timber Co. has completed a deal with The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine that puts 363,000 acres in Maine's North Woods into a conservation easement banning development and limiting logging while allowing public access for hunting, snowmobiling and other recreation.

A comprehensive new report from the Native Plant Trust and the Nature Conservancy is calling for conservation of an additional 2.3 million acres of land in specific habitats and locations across New England to protect native plants and the species that depend on them.

Mark Anderson, the Conservancy's director of conservation science, says time is running out to address crashing insect populations and pollinators such as butterflies which have declined nearly 40%.

"But the science is clear that that is largely due to habitat loss and habitat degradation. And there are examples where restored habitats or conserved habitats have been able to reverse that trend," he says.

One example, says Anderson, is the importance of wetlands to bird populations. According to the report, wetlands cover 12% of New England, but they are critical to sustaining almost half the population of plants, birds and wildlife.

"So I think it's really critical that we think about — if we want a future that we share with all other forms of life that we evolved with, we have got to start devoting habitat space to other species," he says.

The 250-page report includes an interactive mapping tool to give policymakers, state and federal agencies and land trusts information about where to protect climate-resilient sites that capture plant and habitat diversity and how to spend conservation dollars efficiently.

The rapidly changing climate is expected to stress the ability of individual species and entire habitats to adapt. The report calls on landowners to ensure that another 5.2 million acres of conserved land in the region is effectively managed to preserve genetic diversity.

"So we've got on our hands quite a crisis and it's urgent. I don't know what the answer is if we don't meet these goals," Anderson says.