About Beginning with Habitat
Beginning with Habitat (BwH), a collaborative program of federal, state and local agencies and non-governmental organizations, is a habitat-based approach to conserving wildlife and plant habitat on a landscape scale. The goal of the program is to maintain sufficient habitat to support all native plant and animal species currently breeding in Maine. BwH compiles habitat information from multiple sources, integrates it into one package, and makes it accessible to towns, land trusts, conservation organizations and others to use proactively. Each Maine town is provided with a collection of maps, accompanying information depicting and describing various habitats of statewide and national significance found in the town, and with tools to implement habitat conservation in local land use planning efforts. BwH is designed to help local decision makers create a vision for their community, to design a landscape, and to develop a plan that provides habitat for all species and balances future development with conservation.
Since its inception in 2000, BwH has met with and provided information to more than 140 cities and towns and 35 land trusts and regional planning commissions within the state. Many towns and land trusts have incorporated the information they have received from BwH into their comprehensive plans and strategic approaches to conservation.
The Beginning with Habitat (BwH) landscape approach to habitat conservation was initially developed by the University of Maine's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (CFWRU) under the direction of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) (Krohn and Hepinstall 2000). Data on plants, natural communities, and wildlife habitats of national interest were later added by the Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
By overlaying maps of the habitat needs of all of Maine's vertebrate species with Maine's primary land cover types (forests, fields, wetlands) in a geographic information system (GIS), the CFWRU reports that 80-95% of all of Maine's terrestrial vertebrate species would likely be present if riparian habitats, high value animal habitats, and large habitat blocks are strategically protected in a landscape that is linked together.
BwH provides maps and accompanying information about these important habitat features (riparian habitats, high value animal habitats, and large habitat blocks) as well as additional information and tools to implement habitat conservation in local land use planning efforts.
The BwH map resources provide local officials, committee members and land trust representatives with habitat data drawn directly from state agency databases. The companion website and toolbox provide conservation recommendations for addressing each of the three major BwH features necessary for conserving a functional network of interconnected lands in your community.
Riparian Habitat (Map 1) is the transitional zone between aquatic habitats and wetlands and dry or upland habitats and includes the banks and shores of streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes, and the upland edge of wetlands. Riparian Habitat provides habitat for many plants and animals occurring in Maine. Towns have the opportunity to protect a large portion of Riparian Habitat simply by fully enacting and enforcing Maine's Shoreland Zoning provisions and utilizing additional tools highlighted in the Beginning with Habitat Toolbox.
High Value Plant and Animal Habitats (Map 2) include Rare Plant Locations and Rare or Exemplary Natural Communities; Essential Habitat (designated for some endangered animals); Significant Wildlife Habitat (for deer, waterfowl and wading birds, nesting seabirds, shorebirds, and vernal pools); and Rare Animal Locations (for endangered species and species of special concern) as identified and mapped by the Maine Natural Areas Program and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. High Value Habitat for USFWS Priority Trust Species is also included. Several of these habitats are offered some degree of protection under state law, but the best opportunities for effective protection area at the local level.
Undeveloped Habitat Blocks and Habitat Connections (Map 3) provide habitat for certain plants and animals not already included in Riparian or High Value Habitats. These blocks are especially important to species with large home ranges, such as bobcat, and other species, such as the black-throated blue warbler, who may have small home ranges but will only be successful over the long term in larger habitat blocks. Large Blocks also are likely to include a wider diversity of species than smaller blocks. Conservation of Large Habitat Blocks also presents opportunities to promote and preserve active farmland and woodlots, provide recreational opportunities, conserve aquifers, and maintain scenic vistas.
Supplemental maps showing wetlands (Map 7); habitat for USFWS priority trust species (Map 8); and a regional perspective provide additional information that can be used in land use planning and protection efforts.
Why Plan with the Beginning with Habitat Model?
The data, maps, tools and other suggestions for local conservation strategies can help inform and guide your town's growth in such a way that 50 years from now your town will maintain a quality of place that not only allows future generations to fish, hunt, photograph or watch wildlife but attracts new economic opportunity as a result of accessible green space and rich recreational offerings.
IFW biologists are ready to help your town collaboratively design a landscape that provides conservation of habitats for plants and animals and areas appropriate for future development. Contact BwH for assistance.