Highest Ranked Wildlife Habitat by Ecological Condition

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For the NH Wildlife Action Plan maps, the condition of wildlife habitats was analyzed by ranking the biological, landscape and human impact factors most affecting each habitat type. Biological factors include rare plant and animal species and overall biodiversity. Landscape factors include size of habitat and how close it is to other patches of that habitat. Human impact factors include density of roads around the habitat, dams, recreational use, and pollution. These are examples of the many factors that were used. Different factors were chosen for each particular habitat as, for example, hiking trails may reduce the habitat quality in alpine areas but are far less damaging to hemlock-hardwood-pine forests.

highest ranked habitat map

NHFG biologists developed condition filters to provide data and maps that show which habitats are in the best ecological condition in the state. These filters are a set of GIS data that indicate to what degree a particular patch of habitat has good biological diversity (particularly in terms of rare species), is connected to other similar patches in the landscape, and is negatively impacted by humans. There is a different filter for each habitat, but each filter includes biological, landscape, and human impact factors.

All 16 habitat types were assessed for condition as well as all surface waters. Streams and rivers were assessed in watershed units developed by the US Geological Survey (HUC 12). For each category (biological, landscape and human impact), a single score was calculated by weighting all factors equally. Then the scores from each category were weighted evenly to come up with a single condition score. Scores for each habitat polygon can be viewed in the attribute table in GIS or using the identify feature on the GRANIT Data Mapper program. These condition analyses were redone in 2010 to reflect the updated wildlife land cover and to use more up-to-date information. In addition, a more accurate analysis of forests was done. Large blocks of forests will contain some habitat which is in better ecological condition than other parts. This new analysis method was designed to show that.

For the five matrix forest types, instead of assessing condition based on habitat polygons, the forests were assessed in a raster grid, meaning each forest was split into 30mX30 m pixels (0.22 acre) so that the places where the habitat really was more intact would truly be identified. The types of information included in the condition analysis was similar to the 2005 analysis.

The map data was updated in 2010. Click here for a brief description of the updates (PDF, 15 KB).

For use in conservation planning, the habitats were then ranked to show the habitats that were Highest Ranking in the State. This was done so that the top 15% by area of each forest type, and top 10% by area of the other habitats were considered highest ranking. Since the three coastal habitats and alpine habitats are so rare, all of them are top ranked. A few other locations, that of critically imperiled species, were also added as top ranked so that these critical habitats, even if degraded, were considered as a high priority. The Highest Ranked Wildlife Habitat in the state is colored pink on the map.

Since NH is so ecologically diverse, the habitats were then ranked within their ecoregional subsection. The Nature Conservancy had developed ecoregions, geographical areas with similar physical characteristics that influence biology, and these were used in the models. There are 9 ecoregional subsections in NH (click here for map).The top 15% by area of forests and the top 50% of other terrestrial habitats in each ecoregion are considered Highest Ranking in the Biological Region. If these were not already top ranked in the state (pink), they are colored green on this map.

To provide a similar comparison for surface waters and wetlands, The Nature Conservancy also developed watershed groupings (click here for map), which are geographic areas with similar features that influence aquatic biology (link to watershed groupings map). The top 50% of wetland habitats, all floodplain forests and 30% of surface waters were ranked highest in the biological region. If these were not already top ranked in the state (pink), they are colored green on this map.

Habitats will not stay in good condition if the surrounding landscape is destroyed. This is particularly true of surface waters. A third ranking, Supporting Landscapes consists of the upland part of the watershed for surface waters, some very intact forest blocks, some known locations of WAP species and some locations of exemplary natural communities. These areas are shown orange on this map.

This Highest Ranked Wildlife Habitat map can be viewed in a variety of ways. You can download a pdf of the entire state below in poster size, 11"x17", or in 8.5"x11" (see below). You can view an interactive version through GRANIT's GranitView (click here), or you can view the habitat layers using a GIS software program. Download the habitat layers on GRANIT (click here) or request a WAP CD containing the GIS layers from the Wildlife Division if you have a slow internet connection (call 603-271-2461 or write to wildlife@wildlife.nh.gov). Using the Data Mapper program or a GIS software program will allow you to zoom in to a regional or town level and access the habitat ranking scores. Click here for a tutorial on how to use the "wildlife theme" on the Data Mapper.

Communities can use these maps by looking at the location of highest ranked habitats in their town and the surrounding towns. Since wildlife do not understand political boundaries, it is important to see how the lands in your town fit into the larger landscape. You may have a small area of high ranked habitat that is part of a much larger area in an adjacent town. Your efforts to protect the small area may thus have a larger impact on wildlife habitat, especially if the adjacent town is also working toward the protection of those habitats.

Since the data was analyzed at a statewide scale, and incorporated many pieces of data in the condition filter, your town may not have very much high-ranking habitat. This does not mean that you don't have important habitat!!! It may mean that you have little rare species data - either no one looked, or they looked and did not record the data and send it to NHFG or NH Natural Heritage Bureau. There may also be some other reason that the habitats are not high ranked. Look for low LAND or HUMAN scores in the data, and that may tell you whether the land is fragmented or otherwise impacted by humans.

Any geographic area in NH can be ranked using the data. It will take someone who can use GIS to do this. We recommend that the minimum geographic area be your town and all the surrounding towns. By doing this you can find which are the highest ranking in your area, and this might be where you prioritize protection.

For an example of how the highest ranking condition habitat maps are being used, see Natural Services Network below.

2010 Map downloads - Highest Ranking Condition Habitat
Click on the map size to download PDF format map. For GIS data, contact wildlife@wildlife.nh.gov.

Statewide Poster size (6.23 MB)

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Click to download detailed description of habitat condition analysis (48 KB).

Click here to go to the Habitat Description page.

Click here to go to the Habitat Land Cover Map Description page.

Note: Detail maps in multiple formats are on the WAP map CD. CDs are available through the NH Wildlife Action Plan: Mapping habitats for Conservation Planning workshops - click here to find out when the next one is scheduled.

ecoregional subsections

The Ecoregional Subsections classification (left) was based on land formations, geology, topography, regional climate, and dominant natural vegetation. The boundaries were refined based on how natural communities were more common in different groups of non-living factors. Thus, the Connecticut Lakes subsection splits out from the White Mountain subsection because the mountains are lower elevation, less steep, with much broader river valleys, more abundant wetlands, and overall a more boreal vegetation pattern.


The Watershed Group classification (right) was based on geology, topographic features (elevation, gradient and landform), connectivity, and local climate patterns that effect watersheds over long time periods.

watershed groups

EXAMPLE: Natural Services Network

highest quality habitat - detail

The Natural Services Network (NSN), created by the Jordan Institute, NH Audubon and the UNH Complex Systems Research Center, is a mapping tool designed to inform communities about the location of critical natural resources in their area. By identifying and mapping key factors such as water supply, flood storage, economically important soils, and high-priority wildlife habitat, communities can plan land use around these areas, reducing impact to these resources. Communities can add additional information to the maps as a "strategic overlay" to further customize the Natural Services Network for the local or regional priorities. To test this mapping tool, it is being used by the 26 towns along I-93, from the Massachusetts border north to Manchester, which anticipate the I-93 widening project to trigger major growth. The data is available statewide.

The Natural Services Network is a combination of four major data types: water supply lands, flood storage lands, economically important soils, and important wildlife habitat. The important wildlife habitat data in the Natural Services Network includes the highest condition wildlife habitat statewide and within the biological region, but not the supporting landscapes.

NSN example

The map of the Natural Services Network at right shows the four major types of data. Each type is shown as a separate color, with wildlife habitat in green, water supply in blue, flood storage in pink and soils in orange. There is overlap of these resources, and the areas of overlap may be the most important areas to protect. Communities may see that some of these areas are already degraded or lost, while some are already protected. Data such as conservation lands, zoning districts, and parcel data will help communities define priority areas for conservation through easements, zoning or other tools. Note that it is important to consider your community's role in conserving regional natural resources, and what you do in out r town impacts other towns through flood storage, clean water and wildlife habitat.

Natural Services Network GIS data are available for download on GRANIT (click here). For more information on these data, please contact NH Audubon in Concord, NH.

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