I. INTRODUCTION AND MAP
The coastal and estuarine area of southern New England and northern and eastern Long Island is characterized as an extensive and diverse interconnected system of sounds, bays, lagoons, coves, harbors, coastal streams, tidal rivers and shorelands extending from the western Narrows of Long Island Sound to the islands of Monomoy and Nantucket south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts and south to Montauk Point, New York. (See Map, Appendix A). This broad mixing zone of seawater and freshwater lying between the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal shorelands of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, has been historically renowned for its rich fisheries, abundance of waterfowl, diverse wildlife, productive marshes, scenic beaches, and outstanding recreational opportunities. It has also been an area of unprecedented human population growth and massive urban coastline development that in recent decades has resulted in dramatic declines in its living resources and the large-scale loss and degradation of essential estuarine and coastal habitats. The extinction and extirpation of several species of plants and animals in this area and population declines of others, and consequent biological diminution of the region, can be attributed to many factors, but most prominent are the destruction of natural habitats through dredging, filling, ditching, and draining of wetlands, highway and building construction, and pollution of sediments and waters by environmental contaminants such as chlorinated hydrocarbons, heavy metals, nutrients associated with various human activities and oil. Other factors include overharvesting, intensive recreational use of shoreline beaches and expanding populations of certain nuisance species and their competitive displacement of other species.
Congress, in recognizing the biological and economic importance of the living resources and natural values of the Northeast coastal area both to the region and the Nation as a whole, appropriated $150,000 in FY 1990 for the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to conduct a study that would identify those areas in southern New England and Long Island in need of protection for fish and wildlife habitat and the preservation of natural diversity. Specifically, the House Appropriations Committee directed that:
The $150,000 provided for a study of the coastal areas of Southern New England and Long Island, New York, includes, but is not limited to, Long Island Sound, Great Peconic Bay, Rhode Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound, and the Lower Connecticut River. The study shall include an inventory of the natural values of these areas and subsequent identification of areas in most need of protection for fish and wildlife habitat, endangered species habitat, migratory waterfowl values, and the preservation of biological diversity. The Committee expects the Service to report its findings by March 1, 1990.
This final report, prepared in response to the above Congressional directive, outlines the geographic scope of the project as well as the methodologies used to delineate the study area boundary and to identify coastal species and habitat types included in the inventory. The major focus of this document is a compendium and individual description of regionally significant habitats and habitat complexes in need of protection. The list of habitat areas was developed after extensive consultation with regional biologists in the Federal and State governments and numerous conservation organizations and universities. Nevertheless, differences in interpretation may exist among regional biologists and land managers as to what constitutes "significance" or "importance" and to what extent an area may be viewed as needing protection. As used in this report, "significance" of a site or resource refers to its relative regional importance to one or more life history stages or seasonal use periods of Federal trust species, defined in Section III-B and listed in Appendix B, and is not meant to infer any statistical level of significance or quantitative ranking system. For example, the presence of a population, regardless of size, of a U.S. Endangered or Threatened species, the occurrence of an exemplary and undisturbed stand of a regionally scarce community type, a large wintering concentration of waterfowl in numbers or densities considerably greater that what is generally encountered in the region, areas with a high diversity of trust species, a highly vulnerable breeding or spawning area of a fish or bird species that has been substantially reduced or qualitatively degraded from historical times, may all be considered "regionally significant" sites or resources in this report. Periodic re-evaluation of the data and criteria presented will be valuable in maintaining the usefulness of this document.
It is important to note that recommendations for protection that are provided in this report are for planning purposes and do not represent a budgetary commitment, particularly for acquisition, by the Department of the Interior to this project. Any increase above the President's Budget request will need to be offset by corresponding reductions in other projects or programs so that deficit reduction targets can be met. In addition, these areas have not yet been nationally evaluated by the Service in accordance with its Land Acquisition Priority System. Many of the areas identified in this report are already being managed to one degree or another for conservation purposes and are acknowledged here not only for their individual value to fish and wildlife resources but as being part of more extensive habitat complexes requiring a consistent management approach at the ecosystem level.
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