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Northeast Barrens

Remnant barrens habitats exist throughout the eastern U.S. and are found in all 13 Northeast Region states where they are managed by state agencies, non-profits, and private landowners. The map above shows some of the sites we have identified. A subset of these sites are actively involved in our habitat management project. 

Northeast Climate

The Bailey Ecoregions, NatureServe Ecosystems, and Biota of North America Program maps all describe trends within the humid temperate region from south to north, and from the coast inland. Sites in the mid-Atlantic have warmer summers and milder winters than sites in coastal New England and the Appalachians, and especially interior, northern New England. Coastal mid-Atlantic sites have low winter temperatures of approximately 0 C, while northern sites can see low temperatures of -10 C.
Across the Northeast, precipitation amounts of 100-141 cm per year are common. This relatively high precipitation, combined with moderate summer heat, results in some of the highest soil moisture conditions in the conterminous U.S.


Despite the generally high soil moisture that characterizes the northeast region, barrens sites have soils that have low organic matter and/or coarse soil texture leaving them very well drained. Some sites are intermittently inundated due to the proximity of rivers and streams and associated high water tables, but the lack of water-holding capacity in the soils can make even these sites droughty.

Vegetation Communities

Fire-adapted vegetative communities have established on these well-drained soils. Sites are described as pitch-pine barrens, sandplains, sandplain grasslands, sand barrens, heathlands, glades, pitch pine-oak woodlands, and grasslands. Barrens have lower percent cover and more bare soil than other places in the northeast region. Scrub oak, blueberries and other heath species, lupine and wild indigo are all important host plants for rare butterflies and moths.


The rare vegetation conditions and specific plants found in barrens habitats provide the required conditions for unique and rare animals. A number of rare solitary bees, moths and butterflies, tiger beetles, and grasshoppers are found at these sites. In addition to numerous known insects, many other Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need are known to rely on these habitats:
Birds - Golden Eagle
Bats - Eastern Small-footed, Northern Long-eared, Indiana, Tri-colored
Small mammals - Eastern spotted skunk, Allegheny woodrat, Appalachian Cottontail
Reptiles - Northern coal skink, Northern black racer, Timber rattlesnake, Smooth green snake, Spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle, Wood turtle, Eastern box turtle



The reality is that, like so many rare habitats, we have only begun to understand the biodiversity found in barrens habitats, how the habitat supports those rare species, how habitat condition will change as climate changes, and how people can be better stewards of the remaining sites.

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