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The most critical component of conserving the state's rare and common biodiversity is habitat protection.  Acquiring important habitat is the primary function of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife's (DFW) Land Protection Program , which uses fees from fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses and donations into the Wildlands Fund to pay for the acquisitions, as well as Open Space Bond funds made available by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and administered by the Department of Fish and Game.  

The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program plays a lead role in compiling and assessing information for that program, to inform and advise the DFW Lands Committee where best to buy land for open space protection.  NHESP staff also works hard to provide tools and information to the conservation community to aid in land acquisition to further the efforts to protect biodiversity.  Some of the tools available are listed below.

BioMap2 – BioMap2 is designed to guide strategic biodiversity conservation in Massachusetts over the next decade by focusing on land protection and stewardship on the areas that are most critical for ensuring the long-term persistence of rare and other native species and their habitats, exemplary natural communities, and a diversity of ecosystems.  BioMap2 is also designed to include the habitats and species of conservation concern identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan.

BioMap2 Town Reports – The BioMap2 Town Reports were developed to provide local biodiversity information to assist in specific conservation efforts at the town or regional level. These Town Reports include descriptions of the important species, natural communities, and coarse filter elements of BioMap2 that can be found within a specific town and its surrounding area.

Rare Species List and Fact Sheets – Massachusetts has a rich biological legacy and is home to a wide array of plants and animals.  Some of these species are unique to our state, others have their largest, most stable populations here, and yet others are still relatively common.  Of these native species, there are 176 species of vertebrate and invertebrate animals and 256 species of plants that are officially listed as Endangered, Threatened or of Special Concern in Massachusetts and tracked by the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. 

Rare Species by Town – The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program maintains a list of all documented MESA-listed species observations in the Commonwealth.  Using this online viewer, you can select a town to see a table showing which listed species have been observed in that town, or specify the Common Name or Scientific Name of a species to see its distribution on the map and table showing the towns it has been observed in. The table display includes the last year the species was observed in that town and reported to NHESP.

Natural Communities – Natural communities are assemblages of species that occur together in space and time. These groups of plants and animals are found in recurring patterns that can be classified and described by their dominant physical and biological features.  The Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program actively inventories and tracks the distribution and status of NHESP Priority Natural Communities and exemplary occurrences of more common types across the state.

Vernal Pools – Vernal pools are unique wildlife habitats best known for the amphibians and invertebrate animals that use them to breed. Vernal pools typically fill with water in the autumn or winter due to rainfall and rising groundwater and remain ponded through the spring and into summer. Vernal pools dry completely by the middle or end of summer each year, or at least every few years. Occasional drying prevents fish from establishing permanent populations, which is critical to the reproductive success of many amphibian and invertebrate species that rely on breeding habitats free of fish predators.

Ecological Restoration Program – The Ecological Restoration Program, launched in January 1997, is a program funded through the Commonwealth's Biodiversity Initiative, paid for with Open Space Bond funds, and administered by the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. The Ecological Restoration Program focuses on habitat restoration at sites of exceptional ecological significance identified from Natural Heritage's database that are on public lands under permanent conservation protection.

Report Rare Species – The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program begins all its conservation efforts with actual observations of vulnerable species and priority natural communities. NHESP biologists evaluate every record submitted to the Program for possible inclusion in the database. With over 19,000 current records in the system, a statewide picture begins to unfold of the densities and distributions of various MESA-listed species and exemplary natural communities across the Commonwealth. This information can give us clues into habitat utilization, limiting features on the landscape, and changes to historic range extents.

Request Rare Species Information – Where appropriate, NHESP provides site-specific rare species information to aid a landowner in habitat management and conservation purposes.  The Natural Heritage Program also advises conservation groups on important sites to protect and provides input to towns on their open space plans.  See below for contact information .

DFW Wildlife Management Areas – NHESP works closely with DFW land acquisition staff to target the most important areas for conservation of the state’s biodiversity.  The result of that work is a network of Wildlife Management Areas across the state, including a number of sites which are particularly important for protection of rare species and natural communities.

NHESP GIS Resources – NHESP produces and maintains several GIS datalayers which are accessible to the public.  These layers are available for free download from MassGIS and can be viewed through the MassGIS viewer known as OLIVER.

NHESP Planning Contacts

The Natural Heritage Program advises conservation groups on important sites to protect and provides input to towns on their open space plans.

For information on planning for rare species protection, call or write Lynn Harper, Habitat Protection Specialist at NHESP, at 508-389-6351 or Lynn.Harper@state.ma.us.

For information relating to a town's Open Space Plan, contact Pat Swain, Natural Community Ecologist for NHESP, at 508-389-6352, or Pat.Swain@state.ma.us.