How ELUs Can Guide Conservation





5. A Case Study: The South Kingstown Land Trust

A Practical Tool
ELUs are another arrow in the quiver of characteristics that land trusts and other conservation organizations can use to evaluate potential properties to acquire. There are many potential "values" that can be evaluated and include the presence of rare species, the suitability of habitat for fauna and flora, the presence of wetlands or riparian habitats, cultural features, aesthetics, ground water protection, and potential recreational opportunities such as hiking, paddling, bird-watching, etc. ELUs add another value -- the potential of a property to support diverse or representative ecological communities far into the future. We anticipate that large conservation organizations such as the RI Department of Environmental Management and The Nature Conservancy will include ELUs in their suitability assessments to ensure that a property will support diverse fauna and flora as climate change effects manifest themselves. The purpose of this Case Study is to show how ELU data to be relevant at local scales for land trusts. The South Kingstown Land Trust has partnered with us in this exercise.

Patterns of ELUs
The geography of ELUs in South Kingstown is shown in this map based on the dominant (20 most common) ELUs in RI. Some interesting patterns can be seen. Regions that contain many rare and unusual species of plants and animals in South Kingstown, such as the moraine (Matunuck Hills) and the Great Swamp Management Area are not very diverse with respect to different types of ELUs. This is an important point -- ELUs do not represent rarity, they represent geophysical settings that can support different plant communities. The area east and southeast of Wordens Pond, the Chickasheen Brook area and the Saugatucket River corridor show very complex patterns of ELUs, thus supporting many different species of plants and animals.

ELU variety is one factor to consider. In this map of the variety of dominant ELUs within 1,500 feet of every location in South Kingstown, we find regions of very high diversity in the central part of the community and the northwest part of South Kingstown. By overlaying the town parcels data, we can identify individual properties with exceptionally high landscape diversity (number of different ELUs within the property). Many parcels stand out as being interesting targets for acquisition.

ELU representation is another factor conservationists might consider. The idea is to ensure that ELUs that are common are protected. In this analysis, we calculated the percent of RI each ELU encompassed. Then we calculated the proportion of conserved lands (obtained from RIGIS database) that each ELU comprised. If an ELU was protected in proportion to its occurrence, the two percentages would be similar. In this map, we show ELUs that are under-represented in RI's portfolio of protected land by at least 3-5% and more than 5%.

ELUs: One of Many Criteria
When evaluating a property for acquisition, the SKLT might consider including ELU variety and ELU representation in their suite of assessment factors. We do not advocate that ELU characteristics be the only factor to consider, but they should be included in an assessment along with another characteristics of a property.

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