Field Determination of Common Habitat Requirements for State-Listed Rare Estuarine Plants of Great Bay Estuary
The State of New Hampshire currently provides habitat for over 400 plants listed as Threatened and Endangered (T&E) by the NH Natural Heritage Bureau (NHNHB). While these plants are distributed broadly across numerous natural communities and habitats in the state, a significant number of these species are concentrated within estuarine and coastal habitats centered in Great Bay Estuary and the Seacoast. Despite their critical status, some species are experiencing localized declines due to coastal development, altered hydrology, invasive species, and climate change (Moore et al. 2009). These threats can be amplified by a lack of available data, population status, or public awareness of these critical contributors to the State’s natural heritage. The following proposal seeks to develop concise, species-specific outreach materials to promote awareness and conservation of T&E plant species unique to the estuarine and coastal habitats of New Hampshire. Preparation and distribution of these materials, through interactions with Marine Docents and web-based availability, will contribute to several goals in the Sea Grant Strategic Plan, including ELWD 1: Develop and provide environmental literacy materials, ELWD 3: Docents increase their content knowledge and pedagogy to deliver literacy materials, and RCE Extension 1: Communities will have familiarity with and access to the data needed to guide decision and land use practices that affect coastal resources.
The Natural Heritage Bureau is mandated by the Native Plant Protection Act of 1987 (NH RSA 217-A) to determine protective measures and requirements necessary for the survival of native plant species in the state, to investigate the condition and degree of rarity of plant species, and to distribute information regarding the condition and protection of these species and their habitats. Most of New Hampshire's rare plants are listed as Endangered (in danger of extinction in the state) or Threatened (likely to become Endangered) under NH RSA 217-A. A subset of these species is also listed under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (42 USCA 4321- 4370c).
In New England, basic information regarding rare species can be obtained through the Natural Heritage program for a given state, but that information (and in fact, its rarity status) often differs from one state to another. All states maintain a list of species and their rarity status. However, some states also provide species-specific data that detail valuable background information to help identify species, differentiate them from similar taxa, explain its particular habitat requirements, or discuss current and future conservation considerations. Such species-specific information is summarized in “Rare Species Fact Sheets.” These concise web-based documents represent the status of knowledge for each plant providing a baseline for further study, future conservation needs, or even a starting point for rare species surveys required as part of local, state and federal permitting process for land development projects. The Natural Heritage programs of Maine, Massachusetts, and New York maintain particularly complete Fact Sheets for their respective T&E lists, while New Hampshire lags behind with 27 species-specific Fact Sheets available online to date (representing ~7% of the total T&E species in the state).
While it is not realistic to take on the task of developing Fact Sheets for all the rare species of New Hampshire within the context of this application, it is possible to do so for the subset of species that occur in our coastal habitats where I conduct most of my research. In fact, this idea stems directly from trainings I conducted with N.H. Sea Grant CRV volunteers and the Marine Docents over the last couple years. During trainings for salt marsh research assistance, participants frequently asked for more information on rare species they might encounter in the salt marsh. While there are several books that would be of general value, even the best field guides lack many of rare species of N.H., or the details needed to distinguish them for more common relatives. Preparing the lists and photos requested would be of value, but these materials take considerable time and effort to prepare. Preparation of Fact Sheets would serve this need and could be easily accessed by volunteers or other interested individuals via web sites. Development of Fact Sheets would also benefit NHNHB and their objectives mandated by the Native Plant Protection Act of 1987 (NH RSA 217-A). Accordingly, my frequent research collaborator, Bill Nichols (N.H. State Botanist, NHNHB), has pledged matching effort to review and refine the Fact Sheets, as well as to host final Fact Sheets on their web site. Final Fact Sheets would bear the logos of NHNHB, N.H. Sea Grant, and UNH as appropriate. They would be made available for download on suitable UNH web site(s) such as Cooperative Extension, Sea Grant, and my faculty web site as well as NHNHB.
Working together with the expertise of NHNHB, I will prepare the background data needed to complete Rare Species Fact Sheets for a selection of T&E species limited to the estuarine and coastal habitats of New Hampshire.
Fact Sheets will be developed for web-based distribution. Widely available, Fact Sheets can be directly used in training for volunteers and students engaging in estuarine research and education, including Marine Docents and CRVs. Once completed, a presentation could be provided at the monthly CRV meetings to introduce the new materials, while they would be distributed to volunteers who regularly participate in my various projects in salt marsh and estuarine sites in the state. Fact Sheets are also of direct value to homeowners, many of whom have rare species on their properties and seek to identify them, as well as environmental professionals, land developers, and conservation commissions who use these data as a base line for plant surveys required by the environmental permitting process, Native Plant Protection Act of 1987 (NH RSA 217-A), and the Endangered Species Act. In these ways, the proposed project contributes significantly to Strategic Plan Goals ELWD 1, ELWD 3, and RCE Extension 1.