Updated August 31 at 9:31am

Wildlife protection assessed

By Rhonda J. Miller
Contributing Writer
The population of Saltmarsh Sparrows is declining in Rhode Island with the loss of salt marshes due to sea-level rise – and that’s a potential concern to not only naturalists but the state’s tourism industry as well, says Scott Comings, director of land and freshwater conservation for The Nature Conservancy.

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Wildlife protection assessed

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The population of Saltmarsh Sparrows is declining in Rhode Island with the loss of salt marshes due to sea-level rise – and that’s a potential concern to not only naturalists but the state’s tourism industry as well, says Scott Comings, director of land and freshwater conservation for The Nature Conservancy.

The Saltmarsh Sparrow is just one of 505 species of wildlife that state scientists have identified as “species of greatest conservation need” during the first phase of work on Rhode Island’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

“I think that sea-level rise and loss of salt marshes is happening more rapidly than people thought it would,” said University of Rhode Island professor of wildlife biology Peter Paton, one of many scientists and environmental officials in the state collaborating on the Wildlife Action Plan.

“Saltmarsh Sparrows are only found in New England salt marshes,” said Paton. “The population of Saltmarsh Sparrows is declining so dramatically that some [who study them] are suggesting that in 30-50 years they could be gone.”

One of the main purposes of the Wildlife Action Plan is to determine how to minimize the loss of habitat for the sparrow and many other species in the state, said Paton.

The 2015 plan will serve as a guide for residents, businesses and officials over a 10-year period, said Comings. The Nature Conservancy is partnering with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management and URI to develop the 2015 Wildlife Action Plan, being updated from the 2005 version. The decade-long plan is the structure determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Development, population growth and climate change are some of the elements taken into consideration when planning for the protection of wildlife habitats.

The 2005 version is “about 4-inches thick,” said Comings, and the working draft of the 2015 plan is already very detailed.

“We’ve identified 505 species in the categories of fish, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and amphibians and reptiles … as ‘species of greatest conservation need,’ ” said Comings. “We have five teams of scientists who have been working over the past year and a half to identify these species, the threats to them and the possible ways to avoid or lessen the impact of the threats.”

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