Among the several plans that shape our state's development is the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), which is now being revised. Everyone has a chance to read it and to comment on it at public meetings in December before it is finalized. It's long, so if you would like to comment on it, get started soon! Today, the first 6 chapters are released, about 200 pages. The first SWAP accepted in 2005 was 378 pages with 8 chapters and appendices.
How can there be nearly 400 pages worth of information about Rhode Island's wildlife? And why plan about wildlife anyway?
It turns out that even in our small state, there's a lot to describe: 874 vertebrates and 3544 (identified -- there are probably many more) invertebrates living in about 100 natural vegetative habitats. This biodiversity is critical to the health of our natural environment, a complex ecosystem of interdependent plants and animals (including humans).
Chapter 1 describes Rhode Island's wildlife and indicates where they thrive in abundance and where they are decreasing. The chapter also indicates which critters are "species of greatest conservation need (SGCN)" both within the state and the region, and also globally. Among declining species are bumblebees and honeybees, which of course is a great concern to those of us who eat food and enjoy flower gardens. (pp. 39-40). Other threatened or declining/struggling species are freshwater mussels, quahogs, oysters, and other seafood, so they are also covered in this plan (pp. 40-41).
The New England Cottontail, pictured above, has benefited from the 2005 SWAP: Natural Resources Conservation Service has funded several projects to improve habitat for this species. Because the plan's research identified where they are living, it's possible to target projects that will be most effective. It is still on the SGCN list, though. See the complete list of threatened species in Rhode Island HERE.
Chapter 1 summarizes the economic value of wildlife, concluding that it really is priceless. But since everyone is impressed by big numbers, here are some (pp. 50-51):
- In 2011, about 503,000 Rhode Islanders and tourists spent $348 million on fishing, hunting and wildlife watching (US DOI 2011). Approximately 308,000 (60%) of these individuals reported wildlife watching as one of their activities, spending about $200 million to do so in Rhode Island.
- Birdwatching in Rhode Island is BIG: The US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that 201,000 people -- mostly Rhode Islanders -- enjoy watching birds in their yards and at feeders.
- Rhode Island's variety of coastal habitats attracts many species of birds, which in turn attract more than 40,000 birders each year.
- Our state parks and management areas attract six million visitors a year, generating $1.7 billion for our state's economy.
As Aldo Leopold wrote, and chapter 1 quotes:
“Some have attempted to justify wildlife conservation in terms of meat, others in terms of personal pleasure, others in terms of cash, and still others in the interest of science, education, agriculture, art, public health, and even military preparedness. But few have so far clearly realized and expressed the whole truth; namely that all these things are but factors in a broad social value, and that wildlife is a social asset.”
Source: Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold, 1953.
The end of chapter 1 lists the criteria for establishing which species are of greatest conservation need in Rhode Island.
Watch for posts that highlight the rest of the chapters in the next few days.
Click on this poster for a larger view, or see it online.