Making a list
Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
December, 10, 2009
Now, as we shrug off the last warm days of autumn and feel the frosty ground firm beneath our feet, seems an odd time to take stock of the natural world around us. True, with the branches laid bare we can see through the forest to the crags and cobbles that lie beneath, but this is hardly the time to sample a swamp to see what species it contains, or mark the passage of salamanders from their winter quarters to perform their rites of spring.
Those seasons are either behind us now or still to come. But like the fabled ant that labors through the days of warmth and light to put up its winter store of grain, we can profit from taking the time to account for the species and natural communities that co-occur with our own.
A number of towns in our region have decided to undertake natural resource inventories, or NRIs, as part of their plans of conservation and development. Norfolk, Kent and most recently Salisbury have combined citizen science with data and other resources gleaned from across our region and beyond to present a detailed picture of their local ecology, unique habitats and special places.
While each community approached this task with its own priorities and methods of evidence gathering and presentation, the results have much in common.
Each articulates a deep connection to the land and the qualities that define its rural character.
Each values clean water, broad vistas, connecting protected lands and maintaining corridors for wildlife.
Each also recognizes that our own communities are a part of the surrounding landscape, not apart from it, and that having a better understanding of those intersections can only help us to make good land use decisions.
I was particularly involved with Salisbury’s newly minted NRI, although the Housatonic Valley Association provided maps and other assistance for Kent and Norfolk. The Salisbury Association partnered with the town during the last year to create a natural resource inventory and an extraordinary group of volunteers gave their time and expertise to this effort. The results reflect both the rich diversity of life supported by the natural communities of Salisbury and the range of data sources available to account for it.
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One could spend many years enumerating the species that inhabit the forests and wetlands, fields and ridgetops, and still not capture it all.
The state of Connecticut is very protective of its threatened and endangered species data and does not readily provide lists of those that appear in specific towns. Naturally, those records they do have only reflect those places where researchers have looked.
For these reasons, Salisbury’s NRI emphasizes critical habitats that support a range of species, both those that are rare and those more common but which define the varied habitats and natural systems on which plant and animal life depend. It also addresses resources such as working farmland, drinking water reserves and places that define the soul of the community.
Some of the natural resources of Salisbury remain to be fully assessed and are marked in the plan for further study. An inventory of vernal pools and evaluation of the potential for conserving grassland bird habitat are anticipated as part of ongoing research efforts by members of the community.
Yet the inescapable conclusion of every NRI that I have seen or had the privilege to take part in is that conservation of these locally valued, regionally significant resources does not begin or end within the boundaries of a single locality. For these natural resource inventories to have lasting impact, they need to be shared with our neighbors in other towns and beyond. The bear, after all, went over the mountain, and so can we.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.
© Copyright 2009 by TCExtra.com
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