What are Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance?
Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance (sometimes called Beginning with Habitat [BwH] Focus Areas or just Focus Areas) are natural areas of statewide ecological significance that contain unusually rich concentrations of at-risk species and habitats. Focus Areas include about 20% of Maine’s landscape and represent the very highest quality concentrations of important habitats in the state.
These areas support rare plants, animals, and natural communities; high quality common natural communities; significant wildlife habitats; and their intersections with large blocks of undeveloped habitat.
BwH Focus Area boundaries are drawn based on the species and natural communities that occur within them and the supporting landscape conditions that contribute to the long-term viability of the species, habitats, and community types.
How we Identify Focus Areas
Focus areas are identified by BwH partners and biologists from the Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP), Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Maine Audubon, and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT).
One or more of the following must be present before an area is considered a Candidate Focus Area (in most cases, two or more are present):
- Globally rare plant or animal
- Three or more healthy populations of a rare plant species
- Any healthy population of a rare animal species
- Rare natural community
- Excellent example of a common natural community
- Good example of a common natural community and one or more high-value wildlife habitats
- Large undeveloped block and at least one of the following: a good example of a common natural community OR high value wildlife habitat OR two or more healthy populations of a rare plant species
Why Designate Focus Areas?
The mapping of a BwH Focus Area helps to build regional awareness and draw attention to exceptional natural landscape conditions where multiple resources converge. Resultant appreciation of these truly special places can give momentum to municipalities, land trusts, and regional initiatives working on strategic conservation plans.
Find a Focus Area Near You
To date, collaborative efforts by state, federal, and conservation organization biologists have resulted in the designation of 140 Focus Areas of statewide ecological significance.
Are Other Areas Insignificant?
No! Focus Areas are considered ecologically significant at a statewide level, but they may not occur within the jurisdiction of every land trust or within the boundaries of every town. Other local areas alsoprovide important wildlife and recreation values and provide a connected matrix that in turn support Focus Areas. The criteria used in designating Focus Areas can be easily adapted to the local or regional perspective. BwH’s co-occurrence model depicts local areas of natural resource concentrations and is available for most towns. We can also adjust the model to reflect values most important to your town, such as recreational areas or historic features. Additionally, maps such as Map 2 (High Value Plant and Animal Habitats) and Map 3 (Undeveloped Habitat Blocks) offer a good starting point to identify unique locations rich in significant habitat feature convergence that can then be designated as local focus areas that serve as a starting point for developing your town's or land trusts conservation blueprint.
How to Use Focus Areas in Your Land Use Plans
A Focus Area in your region can be a great starting place to direct conservation efforts. Consider the following approaches:
- Towns and land trusts can work together on comprehensive and open space plans and capitalize on opportunities where goals coincide
- Identify property owners whose lands host significant natural features and investigate conservation options ranging from voluntary actions to fee purchase
- Become familiar with the rare plants, animals, and habitats and learn better how to manage them for long-term preservation
- Educate landowners and the general public about significant natural areas and create support for local conservation initiatives
- Cooperate with neighboring landowners and jurisdictions
- Incorporate Focus Areas in grant applications
- Work with state agencies to garner support for projects