The mission of Bear-Paw Regional Greenways is to permanently conserve a network of lands that protects the region’s water, wildlife habitat, forests and farmland. Natural lands provide habitat for native wildlife and plants and “ecosystem” or “natural” services such as water quality protection, groundwater recharge, and flood control. They can also provide for food and other natural products as well as recreation and tourism. The region is rich in natural resources but they are at risk.
Bear-Paw’s goal is to safeguard irreplaceable water resources, important wildlife habitat and travel routes, and productive forests and farms; securing a region of scenic beauty and rural character where diversity and quality of life are sustained. To accomplish this, Bear-Paw must work closely with the region’s landowners, member towns, and other conservation partners.
At the current rate, the region’s population will double in less than 40 years. Development reduces, fragments, and degrades habitats that are essential for wildlife and fish; contributes to water pollution; alters natural sediment flows; and puts more people and property at risk from natural hazards. Water, in particular, is vulnerable to the cumulative impacts that are associated with development.
In 2014, Bear-Paw updated the natural resource inventory (NRI) maps that it uses to identify the most important areas to conserve (the regional map is shown above).The project reproduced “natural resource inventory” (NRI) maps that have guided conservation efforts in the region for over ten years and it included the entire 11-town, 258-thousand acre region that Bear-Paw now works in.
The new NRI maps include a wide range of information such as geographic information system (GIS) data on surface and drinking waters, the latest available data from the NH Wildlife Action Plan, landform complexity and habitat connectedness from a climate change resiliency study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and important agricultural soils, and other resources.
Using the NRI maps, Bear-Paw identified the region’s most important natural resource areas and once again we found that much of the land that held them was not yet protected. We have made great progress but we have a long way to go! The overall results of the mapping project did not indicate a large shift in Bear-Paw’s conservation planning and conservation focus areas ; however, there were smaller changes that resulted in some areas being “upgraded” and “downgraded”. The analysis also included four new towns that Bear-Paw has been working in.
The 2014 natural resource inventory maps can be downloaded by clicking on the links below (PDF files):
2014 NRI - Bear-Paw Region
2014 NRI - Allenstown
2014 NRI - Barnstead
2014 NRI - Candia
2014 NRI - Deerfield
2014 NRI - Epsom
2014 NRI - Hooksett
2014 NRI - Northwood
2014 NRI - Nottingham
2014 NRI - Pittsfield
2014 NRI - Raymond
2014 NRI - Strafford
Bear-Paw Conservation Focus Areas
Maintaining the quality and avail-ability of drinking water resources is a conservation priority. This includes protecting the quality of groundwater and surface waters as well as sustaining natural hydrologic flows and functions. Most of the residents in the Bear-Paw region rely on groundwater for drinking water and the sustainability of water resources requires that water use be balanced with its availability.
Streams, rivers, wetlands, water bodies, and the “riparian” areas that surround them are critical to maintaining water quality, wildlife habitat, habitat connectivity, and structural features important to aquatic life. As transitional habitats between wetlands and uplands, riparian areas support many species from both communities and tend to have relatively higher numbers of species of both plants and animals. Undeveloped riparian areas protect water quality by helping to filter pollutants, recycle nutrients, and provide flood storage.
Wildlife habitat includes all the things that a species needs to survive and reproduce: food, water, shelter, and space. Each wildlife species has unique habitat requirements. Considering the range of wildlife species in New Hampshire, almost every patch of ground is habitat of some kind. Yet, some habitat is more important to the viability of wild-life populations than others. Bear-Paw used a variety of data to identify the most important wildlife habitat in the region.
Bear-Paw included data on unfragmented forests, wetlands, riparian areas, higher elevation habitats, open lands, and other unique habitats in a co-occurrence map in order to identify wildlife habitat in the region. We also included information on the highest ranked habitat from the NH Wildlife Action Plan and from a TNC study on climate change resiliency to highlight important areas. TNC’s study, Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region, identified areas with an above average ability to maintain eco-logical functions and a diversity of native species, even as the species composition changes in response to climate. Landscape complexity was used as a surrogate for biodiversity and landscape permeability for local connectedness (helping us identify relatively “unfragmented” areas that might be otherwise separated by roads). This will also help assure that the properties protected today will still be valuable conservation areas 100 years from now.
Prime agricultural soils occur on land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and is available for these uses. Some other soils that do not quite meet the requirements for prime farmland but are still considered as valuable for agriculture are considered to be of statewide importance. Sites with these soils offer the best opportunity for sustaining agriculture.
Unfragmented forests, areas with few or no roads, houses, or other development, are becoming rarer and smaller in southeastern New Hampshire. In addition to providing valuable wildlife habitat, these forests provide for forest products and recreational opportunities.
Earlier Plan and Natural Resource Inventory
In 2008, Bear-Paw prepared a Conservation Plan that identified and described the areas that included the region’s most important ecological, biological, and water resources using the results of a natural resource inventory (NRI) map completed in 2003. With this information, Bear-Paw determined that the most effective way to conserve the region’s water, wildlife habitat, forests and farmland is through the protection of its large unfragmented forests, riparian areas, and important agricultural soils and farms since they present the best opportunity to conserve the most important natural areas in the region. These areas provide “greenways” and “blue ways” between and within the natural lands in and outside the region.
The conservation plan also discussed the voluntary conservation strategies and land use planning tools that can be used to protect these areas. Bear-Paw’s focus is on permanent land protection, but there will probably never be enough resources available to conserve all of the unprotected conservation areas identified. However, thoughtful planning of the location, density and design of development within the region that minimizes harmful impacts while allowing for a reasonable level of development can complement regional land protection efforts. Land use planning can guide economically and environmentally sustainable development in a way that maintains the region’s ecological functions and natural services, as well as its prosperity.
Outreach and education must be an important part of the effort. Natural systems are complex and interconnected. Effective land conservation, land use planning, and voluntary land use practices depend on an understanding of the complex interrelationships among water, land, air, and all living creatures, including humans, and the interaction among multiple activities that affect entire systems. The Plan and our outreach efforts help improve people's understanding of the natural environment and cultivate a broad public stewardship ethic.
Finally, the Plan was meant to complement others that address the conservation of natural resources in the region. Results from the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan (WAP), the Plan for New Hampshire’s Coastal Watersheds, and local master and open space plans were integrated into the description of the focus areas identified. In that way, areas of common interest can be easily identified; facilitating the formation of partnerships within the region.
The 2008 plan can be downloaded by clicking on the links below (PDF files):
Bear-Paw Plan Complete
Appendix A Unfragmented Forest Focus Areas
Appendix B Riparian Focus Areas
Appendix C Unfragmented Forest and Riparian Focus Area Maps by Town
Appendix D Excerpts from Municipal Plans
Appendix E NH Wildlife Action Plan and the Coastal Plan
Appendix F Grant Programs and Other Partners