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Home > Wildlife > Species Information > Maine Endangered Species Program > Essential Wildlife Habitat > Introduction
Introduction to Essential Wildlife Habitat
In 1988, the Maine Legislature amended the Maine Endangered Species Act by adding habitat protection provisions in recognition of two issues: 1) the effect habitat loss has on endangered and threatened species in Maine, and 2) the confusion and sometimes costly problems that can arise in the absence of consistent, predictable land use decision-making processes for endangered and threatened species. As a result, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) may designate areas as "Essential Habitat" for species listed as endangered or threatened, and develop protection guidelines for these Essential Habitats.
Essential Habitats are defined as areas currently or historically providing physical or biological features essential to the conservation of an endangered or threatened species in Maine, and which may require special management considerations. Examples of areas that could qualify for designation are nest sites or important feeding areas. For some species, protection of these kinds of habitats is vital to preventing further decline or achieving recovery goals.
Before an area can become designated as Essential Habitat, it must be identified and mapped by MDIFW and adopted through public rulemaking procedures, following Maine's Administrative Procedures Act. Essential Habitats were first taken through rulemaking by MDIFW in 1989, when designation criteria and protection guidelines were developed for bald eagle nest sites. Since then, Essential Habitat has also been implemented for three more listed species: the roseate tern, least tern, and piping plover. Additions of newly qualified areas, as well as deletions of sites no longer eligible, are ongoing for these four species. In the future, additional listed species may receive attention under the Essential Habitat rule.
Once an area becomes designated as Essential Habitat, the Maine Endangered Species Act requires that no state agency or municipal government shall permit, license, fund or carry out projects that would significantly alter the habitat or violate protection guidelines adopted for the habitat. If a project occurs partly or wholly within an Essential Habitat, it must be evaluated by MDIFW before state and/or municipal permits can be approved or project activities can take place. No additional permits or fees are required. Designation of Essential Habitat simply establishes a standardized review process within existing state and municipal permitting processes. Activities of private landowners are not affected by Essential Habitat designation, unless they require a state or municipal permit, or are funded or carried out by a state agency or municipality.
This regulatory habitat protection tool is used only when habitat loss has been identified as a major factor limiting species recovery. Criteria for designating sites as Essential Habitat, protection guidelines listing the types of projects which must be reviewed, factors considered during project evaluations, and maps showing areas currently designated as Essential Habitat are all adopted in Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Rules. Before any Essential Habitat rulemaking is ever initiated, MDIFW contacts affected landowners and municipalities to inform them of the proposal and invite their input and participation. After a proposal is adopted, MDIFW provides copies of official maps and supporting documentation, as well as a guide to the Essential Habitat review process, to state and municipal permitting officials. Essential Habitat maps and information are also available from all MDIFW offices, and a digital coverage may be ordered from the Maine Office of GIS at http://megis.maine.gov.
Designating Essential Habitats and making the information readily available have greatly benefited both the resources and people of Maine by successfully reducing potential conflicts between endangered species' habitat and land use concerns. Landowners, developers, land use planners, state agencies and municipal governments now know where these regulated habitats are and have standardized, predictable and reasonable guidelines to work within. By becoming involved early in the planning and permitting process, MDIFW is also able to work with agencies and project applicants to identify incompatible projects up front and resolve avoidable conflicts before problems arise.
After more than a decade of implementation, Essential Habitat has not only helped to ensure continued availability of quality habitat for Maine's endangered and threatened species, but has also become an important tool in building cooperative and productive relationships between MDIFW and other state agencies, municipalities, landowners, and project planners. MDIFW encourages anyone who wishes to manage their lands to enhance habitat for wildlife to contact one of the Department’s Regional Wildlife Biologists for assistance.
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