New Hampshire Conservation Summary

New Hampshire’s ecological systems range from the windswept alpine summits of the White Mountains to biologically-rich salt marshes on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Between these elevational extremes, more than 80 percent of the state is covered with forest, including 80 or more wooded natural communities such as high-elevation spruce-fir forests growing on moss-covered talus boulders, park-like oak and pine woodlands on dry ridges, and extensive northern hardwood forests dominated by sugar maple and beech that create the brilliant colors of New England autumns. Interrupting the forest cover, open wetlands rich in mosses, low shrubs and orchids occur in kettle holes left behind by glaciers. Thousands of miles of rivers and streams wind through the landscape, edged by riparian natural communities that provide important wildlife habitat. And growing in one New Hampshire wetland is the oldest-known hardwood tree in the northeastern United States, a 684-year-old black gum tree.

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitat

New Hampshire contains more populations of a federally threatened orchid, the small whorled pogonia, than any other state. In the past decade, the Karner blue butterfly disappeared from the state’s remaining pine barrens habitat, but it has been successfully re-introduced. Rugged cliffs — and a city office building — are home to breeding peregrine falcons, part of the raptor recovery success story that followed the DDT ban in the early 1970s. For 10 years, New Hampshire had only one active bald eagle nest, on a northern lake. That picture has changed dramatically since a second pair nested in 1998, and in 2008 a record 24 chicks fledged at 12 nests. Another comeback story is the terns on the Isles of Shoals: a combination of gull discouragement and tern enticement has brought back a thriving nesting colony with common, roseate and arctic terns.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts have protected many ecologically important areas in New Hampshire. The White Mountain National Forest covers more than 727,420 acres and is by far the state’s largest block of conservation land, with approximately 134,000 acres officially designated as wilderness. Pawtuckaway State Park contains an unusual ring dike of calcium-rich bedrock, which weathers to yield nutrient-rich soils that support a true hotspot of rare plant species. At the northern tip of the state, the new Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Natural Area protects large areas of both old and recovering forests, bogs and fens and other wetlands, and crucial habitat for a wealth of wildlife species.

Protection of New Hampshire’s biodiversity results from the cooperation of many agencies and organizations. In the seacoast region, for example, the Great Bay Partnership includes The Nature Conservancy, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, New Hampshire Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NH Fish and Game Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Operating in regions all over the state, local land trusts also play a vital role. At the state level, matching funds are available through the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program. These funds have allowed local governments and organizations to conserve more than 230,000 acres since 2000. With its comprehensive database of rare species and exemplary natural communities, the NH Natural Heritage Bureau provides valuable information to anyone who works to conserve the state’s biodiversity.


There have been impressive successes, but the work is far from complete, and several major challenges remain. Habitat destruction and fragmentation from development are major threats to New Hampshire’s biodiversity, as is the loss of native species due to the encroachment of invasive, non-native plants such as oriental bittersweet and Eurasian watermilfoil. Mercury contamination of many of the state’s lakes and ponds has lead to the deaths of many loons.

New Hampshire’s Future

The commitment of those working towards dealing with these problems in New Hampshire is strong, as indicated by the funding of a variety of protection initiatives from the very popular conservation license plate program. The continued successful conservation of New Hampshire's natural environment is a widely shared goal, and it gains strength from the diversity of interests that support it, interests almost as diverse as the state’s species and habitats themselves.

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