A Conservation Vision for Maine Using Ecological Systems

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Executive Summary

Maine has added nearly one million acres of conservation land in the last decade, and close to 20% of Maine's land is now in some form of permanent conservation. From a biodiversity standpoint, a region's portfolio of conserved land should ideally represent the full variety of habitat types present in that region. We used a regional GIS habitat layer, known as Ecological Systems, to determine how well Maine's conserved lands include the variety of habitats that occur in the state. We assessed all conserved lands as well as the subset of conserved lands that are 'reserved' from forest management, and we conducted the analysis statewide as well as within each of seven geographic regions. This effort updates a previous assessment by the Maine Natural Areas Program nearly a decade ago (Cutko and Frisina 2005).

Key findings of the assessment include:

  • Maine's amount of conserved lands varies significantly by region, from 38% in northwest Maine to 5% in central Maine. Generally, southern and central Maine have the least amount of conserved lands, and these lands are in comparatively small parcels.
  • Less than 4% of Maine is in 'reserve' status (i.e., off limits to forest management). Proportions of reserved lands also vary considerably, from 9% in Downeast Maine to less than 2% in the southern Maine. Nationally, 16% of the United States is in 'reserve' status.
  • Wetlands are comparatively well represented within conserved lands throughout the state. In four of Maine's seven biophysical sections, wetlands are more than twice as abundant on reserve lands as on the landscape as a whole.
  • Mountaintops (lands over 2700' in elevation) are twice as abundant within conserved lands and almost eight times as abundant within 'reserved' lands.
  • Each of 29 ecological system groups occurs at least once within conserved lands in Maine. However, representation is poorer at the scale of seven biophysical sections. None of Maine's biophysical sections had adequate representation of 'reserved' examples of all the ecological systems that occur in that section. Many upland forest types are under-represented on conserved lands in various parts of the state, and no common forest types are adequately represented in 'reserved' lands in southern Maine.

Our intent with this analysis is not to propose a single habitat-based solution for land conservation. Rather, we hope this information will complement existing natural resource data and add to the growing set of GIS-based tools that may help conservation groups, state agencies, and others increase their effectiveness at safeguarding biodiversity from a statewide perspective.