A. Delineation of Study Area Boundary:
The House Appropriations Committee described the study area as "...to include, but not be limited to: Long Island Sound, Great Peconic Bay, Rhode Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound and the lower Connecticut River." Following this general guidance, the Service determined the study area as encompassing the sounds, bays, estuaries, tidal rivers and adjacent shorelands from Nantucket Sound, including the islands of Monomoy, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, to the western terminus of Long Island Sound. (See map, Appendix A.) This area also includes Gardiners and Peconic Bays between the two forks of eastern Long Island, but the Service concluded that it did not include the inner lagoons and bays along the south shore of Long Island that were part of the New York Bight system, even though considerable interest was expressed by several Congressmen from Long Island for this area to be included as part of the study. Because of both lack of funding and time to include these areas, the Service felt it would be more appropriate to conduct a separate study at some later date of significant habitats in the New York Bight area (Montauk Point, NY, to Cape May, NJ). It should be noted here that four significant fish and wildlife complexes along the south shore of Long Island have been included in this report, primarily because of the interest and assistance by the National Audubon Society, who largely prepared these specific write-ups. In addition, because of the connection of the New York-New Jersey Harbor to Long Island Sound as well as the excellent report recently prepared by the Trust for Public Land and New York City Audubon Society identifying the value of and threats to this area, a significant heron rookery complex on Staten Island was also included. Other than these sites, no other areas on the south shore have been included and no analysis has been done in this area to determine other areas of significance, of which doubtlessly there are many.
In addition to the immediate coastline, the study area included coastal rivers and streams from their confluence with the estuary up to the limit of tidal influence or fall line. In the specific case of the Connecticut River, the project boundary was determined to extend to the dam at Holyoke, Massachusetts. Due to the resource limitations of this study, however, and the current interest and consideration by Congress of legislation establishing a Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge that calls for further study of the river, this study did not focus as much attention on the upper portion of the Connecticut River as it did on the lower tidal reaches. Should the proposed legislation be enacted, the northern, upstream reaches of the river should be carefully explored and evaluated for significant fish, wildlife and plant habitats in a manner similar to the present study.
For the most part, the landward or inland extent of the project's coastal boundary approximates that delineated by the State Coastal Zone Management Programs for New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, although in some cases the width of this zone has been broadened to include the estimated inland limit of influence of maritime climate and coastal processes. On the average, the width of this landward coastal zone is about five miles. The seaward extent of the study area is presently delineated by a line drawn from just offshore the southeastern tip of Cape Cod to southeastern Nantucket Island, and from the nearshore waters of Nantucket Island to Montauk Point, Long Island, NY.
B. Coastal Species of Special Emphasis:
The Service's principal approach in identifying significant habitats to be included in the project study area inventory was to focus on those sites of particular regional or national importance to critical life history stages of select coastal species. As an additional part of this process, the Service identified and evaluated areas of significant regional biological diversity and outstanding representatives of regional coastal community types in this same region.
In conjunction with the various project cooperators, the Service developed a list of southern New England and Long Island Coastal Species of Special Emphasis which it used in directing its efforts to identify habitat areas in need of protection. (See Appendix B.) These are primarily species of national or regional significance for which there is a clear Federal trust responsibility under one or more legislative authorities or mandates (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act) or which are considered in various regional planning documents (e.g., Regional Resource Plans, Fishery Management Plans, North American Waterfowl Management Plan) or are ecologically, commercially or recreationally important within the project study area. Many are species whose populations have seriously declined or are presently declining from historical levels of abundance in the region and/or are especially vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation, human disturbance, competition with exotic or nuisance species, overexploitation or environmental contaminants.
The list of Coastal Species of Special Emphasis contains 153 plant and animal species on which the Service concentrated its data collection efforts in this project. It includes 19 species of finfish, 9 shellfish, 5 reptiles, 2 amphibians, 61 bird species, 6 marine mammals, 7 terrestrial mammals, 12 invertebrates, and 32 plant species. This list is not an exhaustive accounting of all coastal species occurring in the study area, but, rather, represents those species of particular management concern on which the Service focused its inventory efforts.
C. Identification of Significant Habitats of Special Emphasis Species:
In this report, each of the significant, high-priority habitat sites and complexes of habitats is described individually and its approximate boundary delineated on a topographic map. These brief descriptions include the general physical and biological characteristics of each area, the significance, uniqueness or value of each area to Coastal Species of Special Emphasis and/or the biological diversity of the region, general ownership patterns, and threats to the ecological integrity of the site and/or species occurring there during critical life history stages. Also included for each site are conservation considerations developed by the Service on how to best protect these areas and the species which depend upon them. More detailed information on each of these sites is available through the Northeast Estuary Office in Charlestown, Rhode Island.
In identifying specific significant coastal habitats in need of protection, the Service focused on: 1) individual populations or occurrences of coastal species of special emphasis; 2) regionally or nationally significant habitat sites of special emphasis species and/or areas of exceptional biological diversity or community uniqueness; and 3) habitat complexes consisting of two or more and often several important and ecologically-linked habitats within a given geographic area. A knowledge of the distinctions between each of these approaches is necessary to understanding the rationale behind the identification and delineation of the sites presented in this report. They are as follows:
1) Individual Species Occurrences: Individual occurrences of coastal species of special emphasis were analyzed to identify areas important to one or more critical life history stages of these species, such as spawning, wintering and juvenile growth areas. Data were sought and collected on individual site occurrences, both current and historical, of 153 selected species ranging from small and local resident breeding populations and seasonal clusterings to larger metapopulations, overwintering concentrations, migrating groups and anadromous fish runs. These data were analyzed for the entire four-state coastal and estuary study region. Distribution and locality information was collected and compiled at the most detailed scale and format available, generally on 1:24000 standard USGS topographic quadrangle maps. The bulk of this information was obtained from state Natural Heritage Programs and natural resource agencies, Federal agencies (Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service) and private conservation organizations, in particular The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society. Individual occurrences and locations were pinpointed on base maps as precisely as the data would allow, either as point occurrences or larger areal delineations, often to the nearest second of latitude and longitude. This information is currently being entered into a computer-mapping program (MapInfo) to facilitate storage, retrieval and graphic presentation of data. Whenever possible or practical, all occurrences of a species in the study area were recorded, including historical locations, regardless of number of individuals at a site, population size, resident or breeding status or regional or national significance. In some instances, however, particularly in the case of widespread species showing considerable movement over the general area, such as certain waterfowl and fish, only the more stable and regularly-occurring concentrations were mapped.
2) Significant Habitats: Using these species occurrence data, important or potentially important, habitat sites were identified. Subsequent discussions with knowledgeable field biologists and field verification were undertaken to confirm the importance of these sites. In addition to obviously significant and exceptional sites, i.e., those supporting disproportionately large numbers or densities of a species or where breeding success and productivity are particularly high or above average, the data also served to identify important intermediate sites between major areas that function as migration or recruitment "stepping stones".
Prior to this project, many important habitat areas were already recognized for their value to fish and wildlife by various resource agencies and conservation organizations, at least from a statewide perspective, and were recommended to the study project for inclusion in the final report to Congress as significant habitats in need of protection. Because the Northeast Coastal Areas Study focused its data compilation and analysis efforts primarily on habitats of ecoregional, regional or national significance, differences were obviously to be expected between the two perspectives, although these were surprisingly few. In some instances, habitats viewed as significant or important to biologists or natural resource managers in a particular state may not have been felt to have the same significance when viewed in a broader regional context. Conversely, some areas thought to be of lesser value by a state because of their small size were, in fact, determined to be of regional importance as stepping stone areas between major population sites. In other words, candidate sites recommended by the states still needed to be evaluated and analyzed as part of the present study to determine their overall regional or national significance to fish, wildlife and plants in the southern New England - Long Island, NY, study area.
3) Habitat Complexes: The Service also identified significant habitat complexes through analysis of species occurrence data and consultation with others. These larger units generally consist of from two to several individual habitat or landform units that are each of importance to a single species or multiple species and which are either contiguous or in relatively close proximity to each other so as to allow their being recognized as a single, interrelated ecological unit, particularly from a natural resource management perspective. Each of the habitat units will, in many instances, have been individually recognized as being important to either a single species or a group of species, often by an agency or group that is focused on a particular group of species. What the current study attempted to do is identify obvious linkages between significant sites that allow them to be viewed in a much larger and ecologically relevant context. It will be noted that the majority of significant coastal habitat sites identified in this report are primarily habitat complexes comprised of individual, smaller habitat units.
Habitat complexes generally belong to one of three categories:
A. Contiguous, similar habitats, e.g., linear stretches of beaches or dune systems running parallel to the coast, ridgetops or riparian corridors.
B. Contiguous dissimilar habitats, though geomorphologically, and often ecologically, related, e.g., barrier beach/lagoon/salt marsh/upland complexes or local watersheds.
C. Discontinuous, though not necessarily remote, similar habitats that form an essential part, if not the entirety, of a species' population or metapopulation.
To a large extent, habitat complexes as viewed here are very close to the bioreserve concept, as defined earlier, currently being explored by The Nature Conservancy and efforts are being made to consider linking the two concepts closer in the future.
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