New Hampshire Plans Ahead

Oct 12, 2023

New Hampshire’s salt marshes are beautiful, economically important, and—amid the dueling pressures of sea level rise and development—in danger of disappearing. Fortunately, the state is prepared to protect its iconic marshes and the many benefits they provide. The Great Bay Reserve and a broad coalition of partners have teamed up to create, test, and refine the New Hampshire Salt Marsh Plan, an integrated set of tools to support policy making, restoration, and conservation of state salt marshes for the future.

“Communities and conservation organizations can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on projects without a systematic way of comparing marsh conditions to support their decisions,” says Cory Riley, manager of the Great Bay Reserve. “This Plan gives us a collective, science-based approach to understanding a marsh’s ability to sustain itself relative to the larger landscape so we can apply the finite resources we have for conservation and restoration in the most effective ways possible.”

With support from NOAA, the state’s Coastal Program, the Reserve, New Hampshire Fish and Game and many partners adapted a national geospatial analysis of wetland resilience in the Reserve System to make it more actionable for the state. The team combined high-resolution land cover data from NOAA’s Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) and locally relevant metrics to rank the marshes’ current condition, vulnerability to sea level rise, and adaptation potential. Each ranking is associated with one of eight categories of resilience, each with its own set of recommendations for management. 

“This is the level of detail we all need to connect communities values and priorities to marsh management and conservation,” says Riley. “One strategy for sustaining marshes is to protect adjacent land so that they can expand inland as seas rise. However, permanently conserving natural buffer areas can be expensive, so it is strategic to invest in those around marshes that are more likely to adapt and persist over time.”

The Plan is already being put to work by communities like the coastal Town of Hampton with support from the Great Bay Reserve. In partnership with the Seabrook Hampton Estuary Alliance, the Reserve is using the Plan to help the town prioritize parcels for conservation in a data driven and easy to explain process. With a shorter list of priorities, the Alliance has been able to help towns approach landowners and seek funding for land conservation.

“The project is an excellent example of how Reserves work to connect national resources to meet local needs and vice versa,” says Rebecca Roth, NERRA’s executive director. “Our New Hampshire and Washington Reserves worked with our partners at NOAA on national analysis that can be used around the country, and now the New Hampshire Reserve has adapted that work so it is even more useful for their state.”

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ReservesGreat Bay, New HampshireNew Hampshire Plans Ahead