Southeastern Vermont’s endangered species face elevated risk of extinction

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A new study revealed that some federally threatened species along the Connecticut River existed primarily outside of conserved areas, putting their continued existence at risk. File photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger

Southeastern Vermont may be at an elevated risk of losing its endangered species.

A new study, published in the journal of Ecological Applications and led by the nonprofit NatureServe, revealed that some federally threatened species along the Connecticut River existed primarily outside of conserved areas, putting their continued existence at risk.

State biologists pointed to several aquatic animals and plants as species of unique concern.

“The reason that southeast Vermont shows up as a hotspot is the presence of the federally endangered Northeastern bulrush,” said Bob Popp, a botanist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife. The plant, also known as Scirpus ancistrochaetus“has about two dozen populations in Windham and Windsor counties, but very few are on land that is protected.”

According to Fish & Wildlife zoologist Mark Ferguson, who focuses on aquatic biology, the endangered dwarf wedgemussel, found in the Connecticut River, has also been losing its hold on existence.

“Historic populations (of dwarf wedgemussels) have been eliminated due to damming on the river,” he said.

The species’ distribution has been reduced in the southern Connecticut River to just the stretch between Hartland and Springfield, according to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Although not factored into this particular study because they don’t face global extinction, Ferguson pointed to the brook floater and cobblestone tiger beetle as southeastern Vermont species at risk of disappearing locally.

On the national level, the Biden administration has set a goal of preserving 30% of the country to prevent the loss of biodiversity, and a similar movement has sprung up internationally.

Here in Vermont, Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, has introduced legislation that seeks to localize the initiative.

H.606 hopes to “establish State goals of conserving 30 percent of the land of the State by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050,” according to the text of the bill.

The latest study from NatureServe sought to map more at-risk organisms and habitats than ever before, thus highlighting the areas of increased, imminent risk.

Bruce Young, chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe, helped lead the new study. He said the finer-scale resolution of the project’s maps set it apart from previous studies.

The study also accounted for “many more taxonomic groups” and weighted species based on the relative rarity of their distribution regions, he said.

By and large, the study’s maps show New England’s endangered species are at low to moderate risk compared to much of the country. Yet parts of Windsor and Windham counties along the Connecticut River show much higher risk than the rest of the state.

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