Health and Diversity of Wild Animals and Plants

Communities need to work together to advance protection of ecologically significant and sensitive areas. Open space corridors provide broad swaths of habitat that connects habitat hubs, enable dispersal of habitats among hubs, maintaining gene pools and preventing localized species extinctions.

Continuous forests, higher elevation ridges, and networks of relatively undisturbed wetlands in the valleys need to be protected. Fragmentation of natural ecosystems, reduces their sustainability.

“The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and will.”

Habitat fragmentation by definition is that process that cuts big habitats into smaller pieces of land that get isolated from each other. Each of these pieces constitutes a habitat by itself, but they no longer interact with each other like they did when they were all part of the same ecosystem. Studies have shown that whenever a region suffers habitat fragmentation, the edge effect occurs. This means the newly created edge of the habitat becomes less friendly for the species that populate it. As a result, they start withdrawing towards the center, so the living space gets even smaller. In many cases, the creatures cannot adapt to these conditions, so their numbers suffer massive drops. This leads to many populations getting thinner or maybe disappearing completely, while other species may thrive in disturbed areas like mice and deer ticks.

In some cases, animals are separated from the resources they depend on, causing them to travel across dangerous areas to get to those resources. This may directly affect species by decreasing the abundance of one species and giving rise to an invasive species. Humans heavily rely on pollinators to fertilize crops and on animals to disperse seeds and because of fragmentation, the population of pollinators and seed-dispersing animals are at risk. Habitat fragmentation often leads to degradation, causing pollution and disruption of ecosystem processes. Because of these drastic effects, habitats can no longer support native wildlife.

Orange County is home to critical plants, animals and habitats. While some biologically diverse portions of the County have been permanently protected, many areas with remarkable richness remain unprotected and thus vulnerable to development. The current high and increasing growth rate threatens the remaining biologically diverse region, unless measures to prevent habitat fragmentation and degradation are put into place. Since critical species are listed as Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern because their low population numbers leave them ultimately vulnerable to extinction, it is especially important that these species have sufficient quality habitat to guarantee their continued survival. And because species population numbers are often low due to insufficient habitat, it is a high priority to locate, map, and ultimately protect the habitats upon which rare species depend. Aside from those on the State and Federal Listings, species that depend on vernal pools are unlisted and may depend on wetlands and the surrounding forest, however, they receive little or no regulatory protection and are rapidly disappearing.

Conservationists promote a range of techniques to help increase connectivity in fragmented landscapes. These include creating open space corridors, buffers, and stepping stones to help wildlife move around.

To stop habitat fragmentation, communities should think twice before erecting a new building and cutting a pristine patch of land. Human development is, indeed, necessary, but evolving cleverly can keep natural habitats safe.
(Sources: Southern Walkill Biodiversity Study, Orange County Open Space Plan) (ATTACH?)

“Habitat destruction and competition from invasive species are two of the most significant threats to New York’s natural biodiversity. The loss and fragmentation of necessary breeding, foraging and shelter areas has pushed many animal species into endangered status. Our native plant communities are threatened by climate change, development and invasive insect and plant species that have no natural controls. Fortunately, each of us can contribute in a significant way towards stopping the spread of invasives and creating essential habitats in our own backyards.” To learn more what you can do, see NYS-DEC page Protect Fish, Wildlife and Open Space – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation