The Cape Cod Commission is charged with protecting the region’s natural resources, including the Cape’s sensitive habitats and open spaces. Many tools are available to help achieve these goals, and the region needs to work together to plan for and implement resource protection. The following information highlights some of the methods available to individuals and communities to identify and protect the Cape’s special places.
Cape Cod supports many state listed rare or endangered species. While some species may appear ubiquitous on the Cape (Eastern box turtle, for example), the special characteristics of the Cape environment provide the specialized habitats that allow many state-listed species to thrive here.
The Cape Cod Commission's regulations ensure that rare species and their habitat are considered and impacts are avoided during the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) review process. In addition, regardless of project size, developments located within rare species habitat as mapped by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (with some exemptions), are required to file with the NHESP for a determination as to whether the project will impact rare species.
Vernal pools are temporary habitats (so-named since they typically appear as a result of winter snow and spring rain and dry up by summer’s end) critical to the biology of certain species. Wood frogs and spring peepers, American and Fowler’s toads, various salamanders and invertebrates all rely on vernal pools to complete critical life history stages. The habitat vernal pools provide ensures that insects and amphibians survive to support higher-order animals.
Vernal pools are not automatically protected under the state’s Wetlands Protection Act, though may be afforded protection if identified and certified. Vernal pools are not always evident, particularly in summer through fall when water levels may have lowered or disappeared entirely. Certified pools can be located viewing the NHESP Certified Vernal Pool datalayer. Pools suspected of being a vernal pool may be certified by interested citizens through collection of evidence and documentation submitted to NHESP.
Towns and land trusts, as well as civic groups, are increasingly focused on the restoration of degraded habitats, particularly where invasive species have become a problem. A compilation of resources available for planning such projects may be found on the NHESP website.
Open Space Preservation
Cape Cod has a robust history of protecting open space, whether for water supply and habitat protection or preserving the character and beauty of the natural landscape. Most Cape communities have a state approved Open Space and Recreation Plan, which includes an inventory of existing protected open space, community vision and goals, and priorities for future land acquisitions (check with town planning departments to locate the current OSRP). Town open space committees and local land trusts work in concert to protect new properties as they become available for purchase. Community Preservation Act funds (and Cape Cod Land Bank funds before CPA) have been critical in generating dedicated funding for preserving land. Often, towns have been able to leverage town meeting-approved CPA funds to secure state grant monies to greatly expand town buying power.
The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts provides assistance to the Cape’s land trusts in all aspects of land preservation. The Community Preservation Coalition can provide communities with assistance in utilizing Community Preservation Act funds. Information on the extensive lands protected during the tenure of the Cape Cod Land Bank can be found on the Compact’s website.