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MassWildlife's Biodiversity Initiative (BDI)

MassWildlife's Biodiversity Initiative (BDI) supports active habitat management projects that directly benefit rare and declining wildlife species and plant communities.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of life and the natural processes that sustain life, such as water, nutrient, and energy cycling. BDI brings together Restoration Ecologists, Wildlife Biologists and Foresters to conduct active habitat management projects to conserve biodiversity that directly benefit wildlife species and plant communities of greatest conservation need identified in the Commonwealth’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP).

Threats to Biodiversity
In Massachusetts, major threats to biodiversity include direct habitat loss and fragmentation from human development, and in-direct loss of habitat diversity on undeveloped lands through human restriction of natural disturbance processes (primarily flooding and fire) that formerly maintained diverse habitats. Human infrastructure and agriculture often occupy what were formerly dynamic areas of wildlife habitat shaped by natural processes. Humans have largely removed fire from the landscape, and natural flooding disturbance along rivers and streams has been substantially reduced by both construction of flood control dams to protect human life and property, and removal of beaver dams to protect road infrastructure. While control of flooding and fire is essential to protect human life, property, and infrastructure, it also creates the obligation for MassWildlife to continue to provide the dynamic habitats for wildlife that these natural processes formerly maintained.

Conservation of Biodiversity
The BDI works to: 1) safely re-establish natural processes such as fire that have been suppressed on specific portions of the landscape by human activity; and 2) replace vibrant open habitats formerly maintained by flooding along rivers and streams using mechanical practices such as logging and mowing. Carbon accounting for climate change impacts of all BDI management activities is tracked in the carbon budget for MassWildlife lands.

Both uplands (especially open grasslands and fire-influenced pitch pine/scrub oak shrublands) and wetlands (like fragile calcareous wetlands threatened by invasive plants) are restored by the BDI with support from the Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs, the Department of Fish & Game, and MassWildlife District Offices. BDI staff also work cooperatively with the Division of Ecological Restoration to assist their work on wetland restoration in former cranberry bogs.

In 2013, the MassWildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) developed the BDI Key Sites project to identify high-priority biodiversity areas (Key Sites) across the state. Key Sites are based primarily on rare species occurrences and BioMap2 data.  Each Key Site meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Supports a concentration of co-occurring rare species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA)
  2. Supports the best quality occurrences in Massachusetts of globally rare species
  3. Supports the best quality occurrences of priority natural communities in the state.
  4. Multiple, co-occurring, landscape-level resources, as identified in BioMap2.

In most cases, the BDI first conducts large-scale mechanical removal of plant materials that have become abundant after specific human-influenced land use changes.  Restoration practices include thinning closed-canopy forest that becomes densely established after a century of human fire exclusion, and herbiciding of highly invasive phragmites in fragile calcareous wetlands. Following these removal operations, the BDI next re-introduces natural processes to the site, such as carefully controlled prescribed fire in pine barrens systems and hydrological restoration in calcareous fens. These restoration activities often benefit a suite of wildlife species, including both game and non-game animals.

Currently, the BDI is conducting habitat restoration and management at the following sites:

Site Name

Habitat Goal

Acres

Town

Myles Standish Complex

Coastal Pine Barrens Restoration

2,400

Carver/Plymouth

Montague Plains WMA

Inland Pine Barrens Restoration

500

Montague

Frances A. Crane WMA

Warm Season Grassland Expansion

500

Falmouth

Frances A. Crane WMA

Open Oak/Pitch Pine Woodlands

1,000

Falmouth

Cook/Harlow Ponds

Calcareous Wetland Restoration

25

Plymouth

Burrage Pond WMA

Freshwater Marsh Restoration

100

Halifax

William Forward WMA

Open Oak/Pitch Pine Woodlands

200

Newbury

Hyannis Ponds WMA

Coastal Plain Pond Restoration

200

Hyannis

Bolton Flats WMA

Pitch Pine/Scrub Oak Shrublands

50

Bolton/Lancaster

Birch Hill WMA

Open Oak/Pitch Pine Woodlands

200

Winchendon

Birch Hill WMA

Young Oak/Northern Hardwood Forest

50

Royalston

Muddy Brook WMA/WCE

Open Oak/Pitch Pine Woodlands

500

Hardwick

Herman Covey WMA

Warm Season Grassland Restoration

50

Belchertown

Herman Covey WMA

Open Oak/Pitch Pine Woodlands

200

Belchertown

Leyden WMA

Blueberry Shrubland Restoration

100

Leyden

Fairfield Brook WMA

Calcareous Wetland Restoration

25

Richmond

Southwick WMA

Warm Season Grassland Expansion

200

Southwick

Eugene D. Moran WMA

Aspen Forest & Shrub Wetlands

50

Windsor

Fox Den WMA

Aspen Forest

50

Middlefield

Jug End Fen

Calcareous Wetland Restoration

25

Egremont

Stafford Hill WMA

Aspen Forest & Shrub Wetlands

100

Cheshire

Maple Hill WMA

Rich Mesic Forest Restoration

25

West Stockbridge

Fairfield Brook WMA

Calcareous Wetland Restoration

25

Richmond

 

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