Tower Quest

Free Visitor's Guide

Why is it important to protect state-rare species?

Think for a minute about species that are common in New Hampshire. Do we care about having moose, and chickadees, and painted turtles, and pink lady's slippers in our state? There are plenty in other states, so why worry about the ones here?

We do want to keep these common species in New Hampshire, and for many reasons. They are part of our heritage. Many people enjoy seeing them. Some of them even help the state's economy (by bringing in tourists, for example).

So what about the rare species? If they're rare, very few people see them, so who cares?

One answer is that there are people who care. Not as many, but often very passionately. When something is rare it is often considered to be precious. The harder to find, the greater reward when you do see it. People who get interested in plants, for example, learn which ones are rare and get a huge thrill from finding one of the rare species. So yes, there are people who care.

Ecologists tell us we should care even about species we never see. Think about the phrase "the web of life." Touch one strand of a web and the other strands move. Break one, and the web will survive, but keep breaking them and the web will fall. It's a good image for picturing the importance of one species. We just don't know enough to say what the effects will be if we lose one species. But unfortunately there are cases where once a species disappeared, we realized too late how many connections it had to others.

Then there's genetics. The DNA of every species has something that's not found anywhere else: the recipe for an enzyme, or a genetic program for changing the timing of a critical moment in a developing embryo. A cure for cancer? Probably not in most cases, but almost certainly tools and hints for how to develop cures for many diseases and ailments. We're just now on the brink of moving beyond spelling out the alphabet of a species' DNA, to being able to read and understand the instructions buried in the genetic code. It's really not smart at this moment in time to be letting whole volumes of unique DNA codes be lost forever. And individuals at the edge of a species' range - such as one that is common down south, but just barely makes it up to NH - are likely to have particularly interesting genes: adaptations to an environment that the species is not accustomed to.

So there are good reasons to protect species that are rare in NH, even if they're common elsewhere. Let's keep all of New Hampshire's natural heritage healthy.

NH Natural Heritage Bureau