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© Chesapeake Bay Program (Chesapeake)

Conservation Priority: Habitats

Our Goal:

Protect a network of large natural areas and corridors sufficient to allow nature to respond to a changing climate and land development and to support thriving populations of native wildlife, migratory birds, fish and plants and sustain at-risk species.

The Chesapeake region is central to sustaining wildlife and fish on a vast scale. Hundreds of fish species use the Bay, rivers and headwater streams for some portion of their life cycles. Many - such as shad, striped bass, brook trout and more - hold tremendous ecological , commercial, recreational or cultural value. Hundreds of migratory bird species rely on the forests, wetlands and meadows of the watershed for food, resting spots or nesting. Millions of migrating ducks, geese and swans overwinter on the Chesapeake. Conserving the habitat that supports fish and wildlife is critical to sustaining a recreation, tourism, commercial uses, and a broader ecosystem.


To identify the network of large natural areas and corridors this map focuses on four mappable resources: the lotic core network (rivers and streams), lentic core network (lakes and ponds), aquatic buffers, and a terrestrial core-connector network. The map was primarily produced by the North Atlantic Land Conservation Cooperative in consultation with the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas Team of the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The Chesapeake Bay Program Habitat Goal Team also intends to use this map as the basis for additional collaboration with these same groups.

The data layer includes the following:

Aquatic Core Network: This consists of the streams, lakes and ponds that are intact, connected, and support a wide diversity of aquatic species and ecosystems.  The core areas are based on the Index of Ecological Integrity and are scaled to HUC 6 watersheds and were developed through “a set of regional analyses that assess the physical and biological value of aquatic systems and species across the Northeast region.” (See: (http://rcoa.cicapps.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/RCOA-Aquatic-Core-Networks-webinar-slides-.pdf and (http://rcoa.cicapps.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/RCOA-V-1.0-Aquatic-Core-Networks-At-a-Glance.pdf).

Aquatic buffers: Aquatic buffers surround the aquatic (both lotic and lentic) cores. Buffers represent the areas estimated to have a strong influence on the integrity of the aquatic cores based on watershed processes.

Terrestrial core-connector network:* Core areas are intact, well-connected places that, if protected, will continue to support a broad diversity of fish, wildlife, plants, and the ecosystems on which they depend. These include especially intact, resilient examples of each major ecosystem type. They contain widespread ecosystems such as hardwood forests, rare natural communities, and important habitat for a variety of fish, wildlife, and plants. Core areas are stratified by HUC 6 watersheds. Core areas are linked together by a network of connectors. The connectors allow movement of animals and plants from one core area to another, and establish a flow pattern for ecological features and processes, as landscape conditions and climate change. (See: http://northatlanticlcc.org/the-cooperative/steering-committee-meetings/meetings/steering-committee-meeting-october-24-25-2016/handouts-and-presentations/slides-overview-of-rcoas/index_html).

*Note: The initial terrestrial core-connector network did not seem to sufficiently address landscape features adjacent to tidal waters that contribute to tidal aquatic habitat integrity. To partially address this, a National Wetlands Inventory derived potential Black duck habitat layer was used to supplement the terrestrial core network. Future deliberations of the partnership will consider ways to strengthen the assess and prioritize the habitat conservation value of wetlands and terrestrial habitat adjacent to tidal waters.

Analysis identifies 19,467,339 acres of important habitat for conservation, about 47% of the Chesapeake watershed. As shown in the chart below, 7,276,177 acres (37%) of this habitat is already permanently conserved.

We anticipate these numbers changing somewhat in the future as (a) higher resolution land cover data is put into use, and (b) we learn more about how climate change projections may affect habitat.

Note that important habitat overlaps substantially with other conservation goals, particularly for forests and heritage.

Wildlife and Habitat Priorities in the Chesapeake

  • Chesapeake Bay: Habitats

    To identify the network of large natural areas and corridors this map focuses on four mappable resources: the lotic core network (rivers and streams), lentic core network (lakes and ponds), aquatic buffers, and a terrestrial core-connector network. The map was primarily produced by the North Atlantic Land Conservation Cooperative in consultation with the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas Team of the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The Chesapeake Bay Program Habitat Goal Team also intends to use this map as the basis for additional collaboration with these same groups.

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  • Chesapeake Ecological Network

    The Ecological Network represents core areas thought to provide breeding habitat for native wildlife and suitable conditions for native plants.

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  • Delaware Ecological Network

    The Delaware Ecological Network is a statewide conservation network providing a consistent framework to help identify and prioritize areas for natural resource protection.

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  • Maryland GreenPrint Targeted Ecological Areas

    The Maryland GreenPrint Targeted Ecological Areas are a limited number of areas that rank exceptionally high for ecological criteria and that have a practical potential for preservation.

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  • Pennsylvania Core Habitat

    This layer contains the Core Habitat of Natural Heritage Areas identified through the County Natural Heritage Inventory project of the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program.

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  • Pennsylvania Landscape Conservation Areas

    Landscape Conservation Area refers to large contiguous areas that are important because of their size, open space, habitats and/or inclusion of one or more core habitats for species of concern.

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  • Supporting Landscape

    Supporting Landscape refers to areas surrounding or contiguous to core habitats that maintain vital ecological processes or secondary habitat for sensitive natural features that may be able to accommodate some types of low-impact activities.

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  • Pennsylvania Conservation Landscape Initiative

    Pennsylvania's Conservation Landscape Initiatives reflect the results of strategic on-the-ground collaborations between public and private stakeholders to develop a value-driven, place-based approach to conservation.

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  • Coastal Virginia Ecological Value Assessment (VEVA)

    The Coastal Virginia Ecological Value Assessment (VEVA) dataset ranks terrestrial and aquatic areas on ecological value.

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  • Virginia ConservationVision - Natural Landscape Assessment, Ecological Cores

    The Virginia Natural Heritage Program has identified a network of natural lands for the commonwealth of Virginia and ranked those lands based upon their importance to maintaining healthy, interconnected, functioning ecosystems at the landscape level.

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  • Virginia Priority Wildlife Diversity Conservation Areas

    The PWDCA highlights areas due to the presence of unfragmented habitat, wetlands, identified habitat for rare species, and/or special wildlife features such as waterbird colonies, designated important bird areas, or anadromous fish use areas.

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  • Virginia Biodiversity Assessment

    The Virginia Biodiversity Assessment displays lands with known and predicted biodiversity, based on data and information from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation-Division of Natural Heritage and the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries.

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  • Virginia State Wildlife Action Plan - Mapped Habitats

    The Wildlife Action Plan Mapped Habitats layer shows locations of confirmed and/or potential habitat of Tier 1 and Tier II Specie of Greatest Conservation Need created for the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan (WAP).

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