The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 10, 2008


New rare species habitat maps released

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has released revised Priority Habitat and Estimated Habitat maps for all towns in the state. The new maps, which were released through the

Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) on October 1, show several changes in Priority Habitats within Carlisle. These maps are used in conjunction with regulations including the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) and the Wetlands Protection Act to protect plants or animals listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern.

Map of Carlisle’s rare species habitat adapted from data on the the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program website. Hatched areas are both Priority and Estimated Habitats, crosshatched areas are Priority Habitats.

Habitat maps

According to the NHESP website, Priority Habitats are geographical areas in which state-listed rare species, plant or animal, are known to exist. An Estimated Habitat is a Priority Habitat where a state-listed wetlands wildlife species is known to exist. These species are protected under the Wetland Protection Act as well as MESA.

Priority Habitat maps are available on the NHESP website The map for each town is displayed with overlays of various shapes indicating areas where endangered species are located. Certified vernal pools are also indicated. NHESP releases new Priority Habitat and Estimated Habitat maps every two to three years.

Rare species in Carlisle

According to the NHESP website, ten of the state’s protected species have been seen in Carlisle since the late 1800s (see box). Compared to neighboring towns this is a short list. For example, 53 protected species are found in Concord, 20 in Bedford and 18 in Lincoln. Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard suspects that the comparatively low number of species documented in Carlisle may be due to Carlisle’s agricultural heritage, “Concord has a long history of looking at biodiversity – just look at Thoreau. Carlisle was the outlying farm town. In Concord over the years there were more people out looking for species.”

Of the protected species in Carlisle, one of the more recently observed is Blanding’s Turtle. Blanding’s is mid-sized at six - nine inches. It has a high-domed dark shell with pale yellow flecking and its long yellow throat and chin are recognizable at a distance. Willard explained that Blanding’s are particularly long-lived, with an average life-span of about 60 years.

A recently de-listed species, the four-toed salamander, is also found in Carlisle. The four-toed salamander is small, two to four inches, reddish brown above with a white underside, and not surprisingly, is distinguished by hind feet with four toes (most others have five). The four-toed salamander has a marked constriction at the base of its tail, and if grabbed by the tail, the tail will easily disconnect from the body. They are active throughout the year, except when snow is on the ground, and are often found under debris near red maple swamps.

Changes in Carlisle

The revisions in the habitat maps reflect new biological information as well as changes in land use. The 2008 Carlisle map shows six areas that are identified as Priority Habitats, one near Spencer Brook (1), one near the Cranberry Bog (2), one large (3) and one small (4) habitat near Pages Brook/Greenough Land, one on the southeast corner of town near the Concord River (5) and one near Route 225 on the Westford border (6). It also shows the locations of the 34 certified vernal pools in town (not shown here).

The new map indicates three major changes since the 2006 version. According to Willard, a Priority Habitat near the Kibbey Lane/Estabrook Road area was removed when the associated protected species, the four-toed salamander, was removed from the state protection list. Willard noted that the Priority Habitat associated with the Cranberry Bog has been greatly enlarged (all the way south to Westford Road) with the sighting of the threatened Blanding’s Turtle in the area. The shape of the Priority Habitat in the Pages Brook/Greenough area has also changed although Willard was not aware of the specific reason. “The state does not always want to publicize the locations of endangered species,” she noted.

Effects on the landowner

Actions which alter Priority Habitats may result in the killing or disruption of a protected species, and are therefore subject to review by the NHESP. Unlike the state-produced Biomaps which indicate biological connections between geographic areas in the state and are used for background and educational purposes, habitat maps have a regulatory purpose. Priority Habitat maps are used to determine when a proposed project must be reviewed by the NHESP for MESA compliance.

Landowners who wish to propose construction work on their property must determine if the project will fall within a designated Priority or Estimated Habitat. For those which fall within a Priority Habitat, landowners must submit plans to the NHESP for review. For work within an Estimated Habitat in or near wetlands, the landowner may need to have the project reviewed by both the Conservation Commission and NHESP.

According to Willard, some projects, such as work on existing structures and in well-defined yards may be exempt from MESA review. Although NHESP reviews are required fairly frequently in Carlisle, Willard has seen minimal impact on projects, “I have limited experience with NHESP making any substantive changes in a project as a result of their review.... But these are all single family lots. If you proposed a shopping center things would be different.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito