One Granite State, Many Habitat Types

The New Hampshire landscape is rich with habitats for fish and wildlife -- from granite peaks, forests, and wetlands to grasslands, coastal islands, and nearly a thousand lakes and ponds. For the Wildlife Action Plan (WAP) and habitat maps, 19 different habitat types were identified -- some of them common and some extremely rare. All New Hampshire lands and waters correspond to one or more of the habitats described below. The habitats are mapped in GIS so they can be used to plan habitat protection or restoration, research, or many other activities related to wildlife and habitat related.

What is habitat management and why do we have to do it? Click hereto learn more about habitat management.

Please note that these are just brief summaries; complete descriptions of critical habitats, their components, the justification for their conservation, and data sources and citations can be found in Appendix B of the Wildlife Action Plan.

Alpine Habitat
Alpine habitat occurs above treeline at approximately 4,900 feet elevation and is characterized by high winds, precipitation, cloud cover and fog. This results in low annual temperatures and a short growing season. New Hampshire is home to many high peaks that have alpine habitat including the tallest in the Northeast: Mount Washington. Alpine areas support unique plant communities such as Bigelow's sedge meadows which provide habitat for site-specific species like the state endangered White Mountain fritillary and the state threatened White Mountain arctic butterfly. Many birds can also be found in these habitats, but one in particular breeds in alpine habitat, the American pipit. It is uncertain exactly what weather conditions will come with climate change, but it is certain that these unique communities will not have enough time to respond to these potential changes. Another less talked about threat to these habitats are human impacts on recreational hiking trails. These wind blown environments are holding on in cracks and crevices and any loss of soil or vegetation can set the clock back hundreds of years. Hikers are urged to stay on established trails. Some conservation strategies for alpine habitat are restoring rare plant communities and educating alpine recreation users about their potential impacts. Click here to read the Alpine Habitat profile from NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 145 KB).

Alpine habitat is a rare natural community throughout the Northeast, occurring mostly as isolated "islands" on high peaks.
Photo: Ben Kimball, NH Natural Heritage Bureau
Appalachian oak-pine
Appalachian Oak-Pine Forests
Appalachian oak-pine forests are found mostly below 900 feet elevation in southern New Hampshire and along the Connecticut River in western New Hampshire. The nutrient-poor, dry, sandy soils and warm, dry, climate influences the typical vegetation including oak, hickory, mountain laurel, and sugar maple. Many wildlife species use these forests for part or all of their life cycle including whip-poor-wills, black bears, northern myotis, and state endangered eastern hognose snakes. Traditionally, Appalachian oak-pine forests are influenced by frequent fires, which change the age structure of the forest. The diverse age and structure of the forest help to promote wildlife diversity. Intense development pressure particularly in the southeast corner of New Hampshire has dramatically reduced naturally occurring fires and increased fragmentation of this forest type. Incorporating habitat conservation into local land use planning, protecting unfragmented blocks, and adopting sustainable forestry are a few examples of conservation strategies for Appalachian oak-pine forests. Click here to read the Appalachian oak-pine Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 134 KB).
Little is known about the habits of the Eastern small-footed bat, which overwinters in caves and mines.
Photo: Maury McKinney, The Nature Conservancy

Caves and Mines
Caves and mines are distinguished from all other New Hampshire habitats by being located below ground. Cave and mine habitat does not represent an ecosystem, but rather an abiotic (non-living) habitat type. Most of our caves are abandoned mines; these historical locations of New Hampshire's prospecting era now provide an integral part of wildlife habitat in the state. Caves and mines are extremely important for six of New Hampshire's nine bat species, such as the state endangered small footed bat. They use caves and mines as a place to overwinter. Historic mining data suggest that there could be additional sites that have not yet been identified as bat hibernacula. The most challenging issues facing cave and mine habitat are recreational activities such as spelunking and geocaching, which significantly disturb the bats, reducing their energy reserves during hibernation. Another more recent threat is White Nose Syndrome (WNS) that has recently been affecting bats in other northeastern states. Click here to learn more about WNS. Two conservation strategies for caves and mines is habitat protection including gating off some critical bat hibernacula and educating recreational users of their potential impacts to hibernating bats. Click here to read the Cave and Mine Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 161 KB).

Connecticut River Mainstem Watershed Group
The Connecticut River and its tributaries make up the Connecticut River Mainstem Watershed Group. The Connecticut River and its tributaries provide water resources to four New England states before spilling into Long Island Sound. The upper Connecticut River is a popular fishing destination for anglers from around the world. Characterized by enriched calcareous geology, this watershed group provides habitat for a diverse fish community, including species popular with anglers, like the eastern brook trout and the northern pike, as well as lesser known species like the tessellated darter, an important host for the larvae (glochidia) of the federally endangered dwarf wedge mussel. It also supports one of only two populations of round whitefish in New Hampshire. Many other wildlife species use these rivers and streams including the state threatened bald eagle, state threatened common loon, state endangered cobblestone tiger beetle, otters, and beavers. Threats in this watershed include bank erosion and nutrient loading from agriculture in the fertile floodplains of the Connecticut River. Artificial water level fluctuations above hydropower dams also impact species adapted to natural, seasonal variations in flow. Additionally, development along the shores increases pollution into the water and reduces the riparian habitat that many of the bird, reptile, and mammal species rely on for cover. As with many other habitats, invasive species such as Eurasian milfoil and variable milfoil threatens the native vegetation and wildlife species within this watershed. Some of the conservation strategies for the Connecticut River Mainstem Watershed is land protection and maintain natural water flow by removing dams or better managing water level fluctuations by avoiding rapid changes at sensitive times of year. Click here to read the Connecticut River Mainstem Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 114 KB).

cobblestone beetle
Cobblestone tiger beetles inhabitat sandy cobble beaches on the upstream side of islands and along the banks of free-flowing rivers.
Photo: Pam Hunt, NH Audubon
Cliffs are primary nesting sites for the state-threatened American peregrine falcon.
Photo: Chris Martin, NH Audubon

Cliffs are steep, rocky outcrops greater than 65° in slope and 3 meters in height. They can be low in elevation within a forest or higher in elevation and completely exposed such as the historic location of The Old Man of the Mountain. Cliffs have sparse vegetation that is typically restricted to cracks and crevices where soil accumulates. Depending on the type of rock that make up the cliff, different types of vegetation will grow there such as sheep laurel on acidic cliffs and bulblet bladder fern on calcareous cliffs. Cliffs are used by several wildlife species including the state threatened peregrine falcon, state endangered timber rattlesnake, bobcat, common raven, and long-tailed shrew. Although often viewed as isolated or inaccessible to people, the popularity of cliffs and cliff tops as recreational destinations for hikers and rock climbers is rapidly increasing. Another threat to the tops of these exposed habitats is energy and communication infrastructure such as cell towers and wind turbines. Some conservation strategies for cliff habitat are educating recreational users, habitat protection, and advising wind energy developers of potentially negative impacts through regulation and policy. Click here to read the Cliff Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan(PDF, 141 KB).

Coastal Islands
Coastal islands have rocky shores, and are usually remote, undisturbed, and free of predators. As well as providing critical wildlife habitat, these islands are host evidence of New Hampshire's rich and vibrant maritime past. Vegetation on these islands typically includes grasses, herbaceous plants, and shrub thickets growing among rocky outcrops, with few to no trees. New Hampshire's Isles of Shoals serve as an important site for neotropical bird migration and provide wintering habitat for land birds. Seavey and White Islands provide breeding grounds for federally endangered roseate terns, state endangered least terns, and state threatened common terns. In addition to birds, other wildlife species use these islands such as seals, barnacles, and monarchs. The most challenging issues facing coastal island habitat and seabird communities are over-populated introduced predators such as gulls. Other threats include recreation and climate change. Habitat protection, controlling overpopulated predators, and preparing for oil spills are a few of the conservation strategies for coastal islands. Click here to read the Coastal Islands Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 166 KB).

coastal island
Seavey Island provides 99% of the common tern and 100% of the roseate tern nesting habitat in New Hampshire.
Photo: NH Fish and Game

pond lily

Photo: Lindsay Webb, NH Fish and Game

Coastal Transitional Watershed Group
These watersheds include major tributaries to the Merrimack River and those watersheds dominated by large lakes and their tributaries in New Hampshire's Lakes Region. The health of this watershed is extremely important to tourism in the state, especially in the Lakes Region. Fishing and wildlife viewing in and around the lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams is an important contribution to the state's economy. Aquatic habitats in this watershed group range from vegetated coves and meandering backwaters, home to species like the state threatened bridle shiner, to cold water streams filled with brook trout and stream salamanders. The large lakes found in this watershed group provide unique habitats for many bird species such as the state threatened common loon, state threatened bald eagle, great blue herons, and osprey. Other wildlife species use lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in this watershed including mink, beaver, state endangered Blanding's turtle, and state endangered brook floater mussel. Sedimentation runoff and non-point source pollution from development, agriculture, and transportation infrastructure threaten the aquatic habitats in this watershed group as does recreational boating. To address these threats, NH's Wildlife Action Plan identifies the following strategies: controlling negative effects of development, recreation, and invasive species. Also removing inactive dams and improving road/stream crossings to help restore the connectivity of these watersheds. Click here to read the Coastal Transitional Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 123 KB).

Coastal sand dunes are constantly changing areas of sand and gravel that are deposited by wave and wind action within a marine beach system. This habitat is important to residential and commercial buildings along the coast because it provides some shelter from storms, wind, waves, erosion, and rising seal levels. Coastal dunes are considered one of New Hampshire's most at-risk habitats and are used by many birds for breeding, migration, or wintering. The federally threatened and state endangered piping plover uses this habitat for breeding and the semi-palmated sandpiper and horned lark are two of the many bird species that use dune habitat during migration. New Hampshire has less than 19 miles of Atlantic coastline, of which less than 2 miles are dune habitat (the rest being rocky shoreline). Development has reduced the places where dunes would naturally shift, forcing this habitat to be more static or to shift into recreational areas. Other threats to this habitat are oil spills and rising sea level resulting from climate change. As beach goers this summer we can all help by staying off dune habitats and obeying restricted area signs and fences. Habitat protection, education, and enforcing laws and regulations are a few of the conservation strategies for dunes. Click here to read the Dune Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 159 KB).

The federally threatened piping plover uses dunes for nesting and raising young. NH Fish and Game photo

Blanding's habitat
Rare Blanding's turtles use both upland and floodplain forests in southeast New Hampshire, where the human population densities are the highest in the state. NH Fish and Game photo
floodplain brochure

Floodplain Forest
Floodplain forests occur in valleys adjacent to river channels and are prone to periodic flooding. Also referred to as riparian forests, they support diverse natural communities, protect and enhance water quality by filtering and sequestering pollution, and control erosion and sediment. Many wildlife species use these forests at some point in their life cycle. It would not be uncommon to find red-shouldered hawks, veery, or chestnut-sided warblers breeding in floodplain forests. Evidence of beaver, mink, or otter can usually be found along the water’s edge. Other wetlands, like swamps and vernal pools, can be found in floodplain forests and these areas are particularly important for Jefferson salamanders, northern leopard frog, wood turtles, and state endangered Blanding's turtles. Since these species, like most wildlife species, use a variety of habitats, not only is a floodplain forest important but the adjacent upland is also crucial for these species. Floodplain forests with their rich soils have been converted to open farmland for centuries, so many floodplains are no longer forested wildlife habitat. Other human activities have threatened these habitats including residential and commercial development along rivers and the installation of dams which have altered the natural flooding regime. Floodplain habitats are particularly vulnerable to invasive plants because the frequent disturbances from flooding give aliens opportunities to establish, and because these species tend to thrive in the nutrient rich soils characteristic of floodplains. Annual flooding can control these invasives, if the natural flood regime is not altered. Some conservation strategies for maintaining this unique habitat type in the state are managing river impoundments to simulate natural water flows, removing dams where possible, and protecting the highest quality sites. Many floodplain forests are on private land and landowners can help restore and conserve them. Click here to read the Floodplain Forest Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 159 KB).

grasslands brochure
Grasslands are comprised of grasses, sedges, and wildflowers with little to no shrubs and trees. The most common grassland habitats are airports, capped landfills, wet meadows, and agricultural fields such as hayfields, pastures and fallow fields. Pre-colonial grasslands in New Hampshire were probably only maintained by beaver and fires started by lightening and Native Americans. The numerous agricultural lands maintained by early European settlers provided ideal habitat for some wildlife species that need grassland habitat. As these agricultural lands were abandoned, these populations began to decline and are now on the state endangered list such as the eastern hognose snake, northern harrier, upland sandpiper and on the state threatened list such as the grasshopper sparrow. Other species also benefit from these open grass fields such as wood turtles and numerous species of butterflies. Development and natural forest succession have reduced grassland habitat in the state. Grasslands require maintenance and must be mowed to prevent them from becoming shrublands or forests. Only 8% of NH grasslands are currently under conservation easements. Reclaiming and maintaining grasslands are two important conservation strategies for grassland habitats. Many grassland and potential grassland habitat are on private land and landowners can help restore and conserve them. Click here to read the Grassland Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 148 KB).

Hemlock-Hardwood-Pine Forests
Hemlock-hardwood-pine forests are comprised of mostly hemlock, white pine, beech, and oak trees. Since this is a transitional forest, it can occur at different elevations and over different types of soil and topography, so the composition of vegetation can be variable. This forest type is the most common in New Hampshire and covers nearly 50% of the state and provides habitat for numerous wildlife species such as the cerulaean warbler, eastern pipistrelle, and bobcat. Many of the species that use this habitat type require large blocks of unfragmented forest such as the northern goshawk and black bear. Since this forest type is so common, it is sometimes overlooked in conservation efforts. Development and fragmentation is a huge threat to the continued existence of hemlock-hardwood-pine forest. Some conservation strategies for hemlock-hardwood-pine forests are incorporating habitat conservation into local land use planning, protecting unfragmented blocks of land, and educating landowners. Click here to read the Hemlock-Hardwood-Pine Forest Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 133 KB).


Hemlock-hardwood-pine forest is the most widely distributed forest type in New Hampshire, covering nearly 50% of the state's land area. Photo: Ben Kimball, NH Natural Heritage Bureau
hi-elevation spruce fir
High elevation spruce-fir provides habitat for Bicknell's thrush and American (pine) marten. Photo: Ben Kimball, NH Natural Heritage Bureau

High-Elevation Spruce-Fir Forests
High-elevation spruce-fir forests can be found between 2,500 and 3,500 feet in elevation on upper mountain slopes and ridge tops. Harsh climatic extremes and highly erosive soils play a significant role in determining the vegetative species found in this habitat type, which typically includes red spruce, balsam fir, and paper and yellow birches. High-elevation spruce-fir forest has a very limited distribution in New Hampshire, covering approximately 4% of the state's land area, and provides some of the last areas relatively free of human disturbance. The wildlife species that are found in this habitat include the federally threatened and state endangered Canada lynx and the state threatened American marten. Spruce grouse and Bicknell's thrush also use this habitat. Not only do the trees at this elevation have to cope with the harsh climate, but they must also deal with the stress effects of acid deposition. The high elevation also presents another potential threat: energy and communication infrastructure. High elevation spruce-fir soils are also shallow, so forestry operations can easily damage the fragile soils. Conservation strategies for high-elevation spruce-fir forests include habitat protection and examining potential wildlife habitat degradation from wind farm construction. Click here to read the High-Elevation Spruce-Fir Forest Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 146 KB).

lowland spruce-fir
Recent forest inventory data suggest that age structure of spruce and fir trees is heavily unbalanced, with 71% of them in the 2-inch diameter class because of intensive forestry practices. Photo: Ben Kimball, NH Natural Heritage Bureau
Lowland Spruce-Fir Forests
Lowland spruce-fir forests occur between 1,000 and 2,500 feet in elevation and are comprised of a mosaic of lowland spruce-fir forest and red spruce swamp communities. Typical vegetation includes red spruce, balsam fir, hobblebush, and bunchberry. Although lowland spruce-fir covers approximately 10% of the state, it provides habitat for over 100 vertebrate species from spruce grouse to black bear to hoary bats. Lowland spruce-fir forests also contain very important deer wintering areas. During heavy snow years, these forests provide an area for white-tailed deer to yard up where the conifer trees provide food and shelter from the heavy snow. The federally threatened and state endangered Canada lynx uses this habitat as well as two state threatened wildlife species: American three-toed woodpecker and American marten. In some areas, forest harvesting in this habitat has resulted in trees that are less than 2 inches in diameter. In other areas, cutting has converted the landscape to northern hardwood conifer forest. Some conservation strategies for lowland spruce-fir forests are to protect unfragmented blocks of land and to maintain late successional habitat. Click here to read the Lowland Spruce-Fir Forest Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 127 KB).
marsh brouchure
Marsh and Shrub Wetlands
Emergent marsh and shrub swamp systems have a broad range of flood regimes, sometimes controlled by the presence or departure of beavers, but mostly controlled by groundwater. This system, which is an important food source for many species, is often grouped into three broad habitat categories: wet meadows, emergent marshes, and scrub-shrub wetlands. Marsh and shrub wetlands filter pollutants, preventing them from getting into local streams, and help hold water to reduce flooding. Many wildlife species use marsh and shrub wetlands including common species like red-winged blackbirds, beavers, and painted turtles. Marsh and shrub wetlands are also critically important for state endangered Blanding's turtles, New England cottontails, northern harriers, ringed boghaunters, and sedge wrens plus state threatened spotted turtles and pied billed grebes. Development is a threat to these habitats mostly from driveways and roads that fragment wetlands or change the flow of water. The loss of an upland habitat around a marsh or shrub wetland also increases the amount of pollution and sedimentation threatening the habitat. Another constant threat to marsh and shrub wetlands is invasive plants such as purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed that compete with native vegetation. Some conservation strategies for marsh and shrub wetlands are restoration and protection of these important habitats. Many marsh and shrub wetlands are on private land and landowners can help restore and conserve them. Click here to download the Marsh and Shrub Wetlands Habitat Stewardship Series. Click here to read the Marsh and Shrub Wetland Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 187 KB).

Montane Watershed Group
Montane watersheds are characterized by high elevation and steep or very steep acidic streams that flow over granite bedrock in and around the White Mountains. Brook trout and slimy sculpin are two common fish species found in the Montane Watershed Group. High elevation ponds are a rare and highly valued habitat that occurs in this watershed group. Already naturally low in pH, they are vulnerable to further acidification from acid rain. Fortunately, many of the streams and ponds at higher elevations in the Montane Watershed group are protected by the White Mountain National Forest. However, the valleys at lower elevations are threatened by non-point source pollution from development, fragmentation by roads, and impacts from poor logging practices. Climate change is predicted to change the composition of forested habitats in this watershed and reduce the coldwater fisheries through higher water temperature. The most important conservation strategies for the Montane watershed are to protect unfragmented blocks of land at low elevations, to improve road stream crossing design to maintain connectivity, and to promote logging practices that minimize damage to aquatic habitats. Click here to read the Montane Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 112 KB).

Northern Hardwood Conifer Forests
This habitat type is typically found between 1,400 and 2,500 feet in elevation and is usually made up of hardwood trees such as American beech, sugar maple, yellow birch, and conifer trees such as eastern hemlock, white pine, and balsam fir. Most of northern hardwood conifer habitat occurs in central and northern New Hampshire. This transitional zone provides habitat for many wildlife species including state threatened species: bald eagle, who nest and roost near lakes and rivers, and peregrine falcons who nest on cliffs but hunt over the forest. Other typical species in this habitat include ruffed grouse, wood thrush, and northern long-eared bat. Development pressure is heavy within some parts of this habitat type. Forest harvesting is common in this habitat and if done sustainably produces the diversity of age classes and species which is beneficial to wildlife. Forestry also has increased this type of habitat by converting spruce-fir habitats to the more economically valuable northern hardwoods. Some conservation strategies for northern hardwood conifer forests are incorporating the habitat into local conservation planning, protecting unfragmented blocks of land, and advocating for the adoption of sustainable forestry. Click here to read the Northern Hardwood Conifer Forest Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 133 KB).

Non-tidal Coastal Watershed Group
Non-tidal coastal watersheds contain river systems that are similar to low tidal watersheds except they are above the tidal extent and many are connected to the deep and large Merrimack River mainstem. Depending on fish stocking, habitat quality, and the ability of fish to move upstream past dams in the Merrimack River, diadromous fish, such as American shad, alewife, American eel, Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey or blueback herring may live or spawn in these low non-tidal rivers. State endangered species like the brook floater mussel use this habitat, along with fish species of concern like the redfin pickerel and the banded sunfish. The connections between open water, wetland, and upland habitats throughout this watershed are critical to not only many species of fish, but to aquatic insects, amphibians, waterfowl, and turtles that use multiple habitat types throughout their life cycles. Threats to aquatic habitats in low non-tidal watersheds are related to the rapidly increasing population density such as non-point source pollution, dams or poorly designed culverts, unrestricted water use, and loss of habitat due to development or transportation infrastructure. Conservation strategies for non-tidal coastal watersheds include habitat restoration, habitat protection, setting limits on water withdrawals, and reducing fragmentation. Click here to read the Non-tidal Coastal Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 114 KB).

Northern Upland Watershed Group
Northern upland watersheds are distinct because of their northern terrestrial communities, geology, higher elevations, and separation from watersheds south of the White Mountains. This watershed group is extremely important because it includes the headwaters for both the Connecticut and the Androscoggin rivers. Both the higher elevation and the northern climate result in rivers that support more coldwater fisheries such as brook trout, and Atlantic salmon. Atlantic salmon are stocked in rivers throughout the northeast as part of a federal and state effort to restore salmon populations that were extirpated by dams built in the 1800’s. The federally endangered dwarf wedge mussel is found in a few locations along the Connecticut River and its tributaries as well as the state endangered northern harrier in grasslands and state threatened species common loon and bald eagle in and around waterbodies. The primary threats to this area are fragmentation, development, sprawl, and non-point source pollution, especially sedimentation and runoff from poorly managed logging operations, agricultural fields, and impervious surfaces in population centers like Berlin. Climate change is predicted to change the composition of forested habitats in this watershed and reduce the coldwater fisheries through higher water temperature. The most important conservation strategy for the northern upland watershed is to preserve the connectivity of unfragmented lands. Click here to read the Northern Upland Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 116 KB).

Many peatland communities are comprised of northern species that barely extend southward into New Hampshire, making them, and the wildlife that depend on them, particularly vulnerable in this state. Photo: Ben Kimball, NH Natural Heritage Bureau

Peatland habitats are extremely important for carbon sequestration on a local and global scale. The water in peatlands has low nutrient content and typically high acidity caused by limited groundwater input and surface runoff. These environmental conditions are such that plant and animal material take a very long time to decompose. This organic material contains carbon and other nutrients, storing it away and slowly releasing it into the atmosphere. Drainage and destruction of peatlands releases this carbon into the atmosphere quicker, increasing greenhouse gases today. Conservation of the 11 different natural communities that comprise peatlands is also vital to the continued existence of many rare plant and wildlife species in New Hampshire. The state endangered ringed bog haunter uses peatlands and the surrounding uplands in the southern part of the state. The northern bog lemming inhabits burrows in the sphagnum moss and associated grasses. Typical vegetation in a peatland includes sphagnum moss, leather leaf, northern white cedar, and American larch. Threats to peatland habitats are development, altered hydrology (amount and flow of water), and unsustainable forest harvesting. Non-point source pollutants, such as road salt, lawn fertilizers, and pesticides, also threaten this habitat by altering the acidity and nutrients. Establishing buffers around this habitat is one conservation strategy that will help minimize the threats to peatland habitats. Click here to read the Peatland Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 168 KB).

Pine Barrens
Pine barrens are among the most imperiled natural communities in the world and contribute significantly to the biological diversity of the northeast. They are dominated by pitch pine and scrub oak interspersed with pockets of grassy openings. The sandy, nutrient poor soils are typically situated along river banks and bluffs. Pine barrens plants are in constant flux, maintained by frequent disturbances such as lightning-caused wildfires, which occur naturally and regularly. These communities support a suite of regionally and globally rare species including the federally and state endangered Karner blue butterfly, and other state endangered species such as the frosted elfin butterfly, persius duskywing and common nighthawk. Other more common species can be found in pine barrens including white-tailed deer, turkey, and eastern towhee. Development, fragmentation, and altered natural disturbance regime threaten this habitat. Without disturbance, pine barrens will natural succeed to a more diverse forest type, therefore, habitat management and restoration, particularly using prescribed fire, are two of the conservation strategies for Pine Barrens. Click here to read the Pine Barrens Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 162 KB).

Karner blue
The federally endangered Karner blue butterfly serves as an indicator of pine barrens habitat quality. Managing for Karners maximizes biodiversity for other state endangered and threatened wildlife species. Photo: Marquis Walsh, NH Fish and Game
Rocky Ridges and Talus Slopes
Rocky ridges and talus slopes are two related but distinct habitats. Talus slopes, comprised of loose or stable boulders and rocks, range from open, lichen covered talus "barrens" to closed-canopy forested talus communities. Rocky ridges generally occur on outcrops and bedrock ridges and summits below the alpine zone. Talus slopes and rocky ridges provide crucial habitat for several rare wildlife species in New Hampshire, including bobcat, state endangered timber rattlesnake and eastern small-footed bats, and state threatened peregrine falcon. Due to the inaccessible nature of talus slopes, human impacts exist primarily on the rocky ridge portion of this habitat, though some trails and other impacts are found on talus. Some conservation strategies for rocky ridges and talus slopes are to limit trails through high risk areas and monitoring indicator species for climate change. Click here to read the Rocky Ridge and Talus Slope Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 170 KB).
Salt Marshes
Salt marshes are grass-dominated tidal wetlands existing in the transition zone between ocean and upland. They are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and provide great habitat for many bird species including American bittern, Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow, salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow, seaside sparrow, and semipalmated sandpiper. Salt marsh plants are salt-tolerant and adapted to fluctuating water levels. Nutrients that stimulate marsh plant growth are carried in with the tides, and organic matter that feeds fish and other organisms is carried out by the tides. Over time, organic matter accumulates on the marsh and forms peat. By building up more peat, salt marsh elevation can keep apace with rising sea level, unless the rate of sea-level rise becomes too great, such as is predicted from climate change. Salt marshes help protect coastal areas from storm surges, but an estimated 30-50% of New Hampshire's original salt marsh habitat has been lost to development. Some of the conservation strategies for salt marshes are restoring and protecting the remaining salt marsh habitat and surrounding upland buffer habitat. Click here to read the Salt Marsh Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 151 KB).
An estimated 30-50% of New Hampshire's original salt marsh habitat has been lost to development. Photo: Ben Kimball, NH Natural Heritage Bureau
Shrubland habitats are shrub-dominated areas with scattered forbs and grasses. These habitats are typically the result of some disturbance and include dry shrublands, utility rights-of-way, old agriculture fields, and reverting gravel pits. Shrublands and other woody early-successional habitats are declining in New Hampshire and throughout the Northeast as are the associated wildlife species. Patch size is a key component of shrublands as wildlife habitats. For example, Golden-winged warblers occupy patches that are at least 10 hectares, whereas state endangered New England cottontails occupy patches in southeastern New Hampshire ranging from 0.2 to 15 hectares. Vegetation structure is also very important to shrubland habitat as some species require thick understory such as the New England cottontail and other species require dense canopy cover in addition to the shrub cover like the American woodcock. Some of the other species that can be found in shrublands include ruffed grouse, smooth green snake, wood turtle and the state threatened black racer. If left alone, many shrublands will naturally succeed into forests and therefore, natural disturbances or specific management practices should be allowed to occur to sustain this habitat. Additionally, habitat fragmentation and habitat loss due to development threatens shrubland habitats. Some conservation strategies for shrublands include habitat restoration and management. Click here to read the Shrubland Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 122 KB).
Southern Upland Watershed Group
Southern upland watersheds have cold water, moderate to high gradient, confined valley streams, and medium to large rivers. This watershed is important because it contains the southern rivers and headwaters that drain east into the Merrimack River and west into the Connecticut River. In the higher elevations, aquatic ecosystems are subject to colder seasonal temperatures, relatively large daily variations in temperature, and relatively unstable hydrologic regimes due to snow melt or precipitation flowing over shallow soils. The lower, warmer rivers in this watershed group share fisheries characteristics with the low-moderate watershed group. Much of the landscape remains undeveloped, with many examples of high quality aquatic habitats, making this watershed group the focus of land protection efforts such as the Quabbin to Cardigan Conservation Collaborative. Some of the wildlife species that depend on this watershed include the state endangered brook floater mussel, the state and federally endangered dwarf wedge mussel, and the state threatened species: common loon and bald eagle. Threats to this watershed include altered natural flow regimes, nonpoint source pollution (especially sedimentation and storm water runoff), and invasive species. Climate change is predicted to change the composition of forested habitats in this watershed and reduce the coldwater fisheries through higher water temperature. Conservation strategies for the southern upland watershed include habitat protection, habitat restoration, and invasive species prevention. Click here to read the Southern Upland Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 111 KB).
Tidal Coastal Watershed
Tidal coastal watersheds include tidal rivers and their watersheds. The gradients between salt, brackish, and fresh water occur only within this watershed group. Tidal aquatic ecosystems and their tributaries offer unique habitats for New Hampshire’s wildlife. They are relatively uncommon in New Hampshire, and the rivers and estuaries at Great Bay are one of the best examples of an estuarine ecosystem in the Northeast. The combination of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats in the Tidal Coastal Watershed Group supports the greatest diversity of species in New Hampshire, from harbor porpoises to horseshoe crabs. The rivers support runs of diadromous fish, such as American shad, alewife, American eel, and blueback herring. Freshwater fish species of concern are also found in this watershed group, including the state endangered American brook lamprey and the state threatened bridle shiner. The coastal waters are also important habitat for commercially and recreationally important species like the American lobster and the striped bass. In addition to aquatic species, bird species such as the state threatened bald eagle, state threatened common tern, American black duck, osprey, saltmarsh species are just a few species that use the Great Bay and other coastal waters throughout their breeding and migratory seasons. The effects of rapid development, including habitat conversion, non-point source pollution, and altered hydrology, are the most pressing threats to coastal watersheds. Fragmentation due to dams and stream crossings restricts the amount of habitat available to many species and could have a negative impact on their genetic viability. Climate change is predicted to alter sea level and thus the tidal flows that are such a key element of this watershed. Salt marsh and river restoration are two important conservation strategies for the tidal coastal watershed. Click here to read the Tidal Coastal Watershed Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan (PDF, 108 KB).
vernal pool brochure
Vernal Pools
Vernal pools are wetland depressions characterized by small size, physical isolation from other wetlands, and periods of flooding and drying. Vernal pools can be found in almost every other habitat type and many wildlife species use them as a place to take a quick drink as they are passing through the area. Some species though are vernal pool-dependant and the loss of this habitat can result in local extinction of these species such as the fairy shrimp, wood frog, spotted salamander, blue-spotted salamander, Jefferson salamander, and the state endangered marbled salamander. The loss of vernal pool habitat due to development is therefore a huge threat, but the surrounding habitat is also just as important as the vernal pool itself. Most of the wildlife species that use vernal pools also spend a great deal of time in the surrounding habitat. Removing the tree canopy around a vernal pool also changes the amount of sunlight reaching the pool and can alter the temperature and the flooding and drying cycle. Some of the conservation strategies for vernal pools include habitat protection and supporting regulations that do not allow dredging and filling of vernal pools. Creating a model for vernal pools is very difficult because they can be found within so many other habitat types and because of the flooding and drying cycle it is not uncommon for vernal pools to be over looked during certain seasons or during drier years. Due to this challenge they were not mapped as part of the Wildlife Action Plan, but you can identify vernal pools on your property. Click here to read the Vernal Pool Habitat Profile in NH's Wildlife Action Plan.
marbled salamander
The marbled salamander, the rarest amphibian species in the state, requires vernal pool habitat for reproduction and survival. NH Fish and Game photo

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NH Fish and Game Dept.
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