Downeast Coastal Press
October 7, 2003

Addison, Jonesport Planners Hear
Natural Resources Presentation

State Agencies, Environmental Groups Collaborate on 'Beginning
with Habitat' Advocacy Program

By Mary Rose Pray

Members of the comprehensive planning committees of Addison and Jonesport met September 17 at Addison Town Hall for a natural resources presentation by the Beginning with Habitat program.

Initiated in 2001, Beginning with Habitat was made up of staff from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Conservation's Maine Natural Areas program, the State Planning Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Audubon Society, Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. The goal of the Beginning with Habitat program is to help towns plan for open space.

The program provides towns with Geographic Information Systems' computer-generated maps and data about the natural resources of each town. Colleen Ryan, project coordinator with Fisheries and Wildlife, gave a Power Point presentation explaining a series of maps showing the locations of plant and animal habitats in each town. The three primary maps showed water resources/riparian habitats, high value plant and animal habitats, and undeveloped habitat blocks.

“The data on these maps are the best available but do not represent a comprehensive inventory of your town or all habitats deserving local attention,” said Ryan. “The agencies and organizations working on this project are continually gathering new information. ... Conservation of wetlands and surrounding riparian habitat is essential to ensuring that the full complement of Maine's plants and animals persist on the landscape.”

Riparian habitat is the transitional zone between open water or wetlands and dry or upland habitats. It includes the banks and shores of streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and the upland edge of wetlands.

“If individual towns do a good job of implementing existing shoreland zoning regulations, up to 80 percent of Maine's terrestrial vertebrate animals that use riparian areas for a part of their life cycle will benefit,” Ryan told the audience.

Ryan suggested that local planners work with state agencies to design wildlife corridors that allow species to move freely between riparian habitats and other necessary habitats; and to review and strengthen, if necessary, the town's definition and enforcement of Maine's mandatory shoreland zoning act.

High-value plant and animal habitats are being mapped to allow communities to direct growth and development away from rare habitat types, such as pine barrens and salt marshes. According to Ryan, comprehensive field surveys have not been conducted for all areas in Maine.

Essential wildlife habitats are a product of Maine's Endangered Species Act, which requires that both endangered and threatened animals and their necessary habitats be protected. Maine has 43 animals listed as endangered or threatened. The state's fish and game agency has established Essential Habitat for four of these: piping plovers, least terns, roseate terns and bald eagles.

Significant wildlife habitats include habitat for endangered and threatened species along with high- and moderate-value deer wintering areas and travel corridors; high- and moderate-value waterfowl and wading bird habitats; shorebird nesting, feeding, and staging areas; and seabird nesting islands.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program has mapped high-value habitat for 64 species of fish and wildlife occurring in the Gulf of Maine watershed.

Local planners are encouraged to recognize essential wildlife habitat and areas around what have been described as “exemplary” natural communities and to designate them as part of larger rural areas in which only a small part of the town's future development will be directed. An exemplary natural community is a system of interacting plants and their common environment where the effects of human intervention are minimal. There are currently 115 natural community types and 35 ecosystems identfied in Maine.

Following adoption of an updated comprehensive plan, a town is encouraged to form an implementation committee to make any necessary changes to the land use ordinances and subdivision regulations to incorporate standards for the protection of identified fish, wildlife and plant habitats. Local ordinances should encourage landowners to contact the state fish and game agency prior to submittal of development applications to determine potential habitat impacts and steer development away from the most sensitive areas, suggested Ryan.

The third primary map showed undeveloped habitat blocks, which are defined as unbroken areas of habitat that include forest, grassland, agricultural land and wetlands crossed by few roads with little human habitation. To maintain habitat for animals that have large home ranges, such as bear, bobcat, fisher, and moose, towns need to conserve these larger blocks of land, said Ryan.

Towns are encouraged to maintain at least several 250- to 500-acre blocks of undeveloped land and, where they still exist, at least some 500- to 1,000-acre blocks of habitat, and to work with neighboring towns to conserve 5, 000 to 10,000 acre blocks of habitat in their region.

Promoting Growth
Areas-Has It Been Effective?

Following Ryan's presentation, Ronald Ramsay of Addison acknowledged the rapid growth of southern Maine and asked, “Have any studies been done to show how the unnatural growth areas have worked? Has it been successful? Can you determine where growth will be and force it to go that way?”

Ryan noted that it was too late in southern Maine.

“I don't know if any studies have been done,” added Judy East from the Washington County Council of Governments.

East explained there was a shift in state policy to direct funds to growth areas as a response to over development in southern Maine. “If you are going to build way out, we aren't going to subsidize you,” said East of the state's policy.

The policy, East explained, is the state's attempt to stop subsidizing a sprawling development pattern. The maps, she said, are tools for the comprehensive planning committee to use to try to direct development.

Future Growth Biggest Risk to Water Supplies

“The biggest risk to public water supplies is future growth,” said Andy Tolman, source protection manager of the Maine Drinking Water Program, at the beginning of his presentation.

Tolman added that public water supplies are “fine now,” but “could be affected by growth.” Like the Beginning with Habitat program, the Maine Drinking Water Program is offering some outreach services to towns to help them determine the impact of development on waterways, such as erosion and decreased groundwater levels.

Comprehensive planners are encouraged to inventory groundwater resources and determine their importance in their communities. Federal and state law requires each public water supply to delineate an area around the wellhead, the area that contributes groundwater to a well, and develop a protection plan for it.

In addition, groundwater may warrant protection even if it is not associated with a wellhead or high-yield aquifer as it may provide a base flow for wetlands, streams or lakes that sustain important wildlife and fisheries habitat.

The comprehensive plan in Addison was found inconsistent in 1994 by the State Planning Office due, in part, to what the SPO said were ineffective measures to assure protection of the town's regional aquifer. Maps of the regional aquifers in Addison and Jonesport were available to the audience following Tolman's presentation.

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