SEMPBA Logo Pine Barrens  pond
  Photo courtesy of

SEMPBA Pine Barrens Field Assessment Program

Southeastern Massachusetts is a region of a globally rare ecoregion called the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens. The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) has identified twenty natural terrestrial communities within the region, and they are still counting! Each of these habitats supports a number of rare animal and plant species, some of which occur only in the southeastern Massachusetts "Pine Barrens" region. For example, the Town of Plymouth Strategic Action Plan notes:

Plymouth is a center of biodiversity in Massachusetts, with 67 rare species and two areas designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. The Town's pine barren, coastal pond, and frost pocket ecosystems are globally rare. Myles Standish State Forest provides the largest expanse of protected open space and habitat, supplemented by Ellisville State Park, the Town Forest and Town Conservation Land. Large expanses of significant open space remain unprotected. (Growing Smarter in Plymouth's Fifth Century; A Strategic Action Plan for the Town of Plymouth, MA. 2004. p. 12.)

While southeastern Massachusetts contains the world's second largest region of Pine Barrens remaining in the world (the New Jersey Pine Barrens is the largest), the information and data that could ensure the viability of the region's diverse natural resources has yet to be collected.

The Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance (SEMPBA) Pine Barrens Field Assessment Program helps land managers and volunteers learn how to determine the natural community type, extent and character of Pine Barrens lands throughout the region. SEMPBA is building a map and a database with the data collected through the Assessment Program as an aid to guiding local conservation and restoration efforts.

SEMPBA held the first Pine Barrens Assessment Field Training event in May 1013. However, many participants found the program too difficult. We have since uncovered an assessment tool that should prove much more user friendly. The booklet, A Guide to the Natural Communities of Massachusetts, 2004, was developed by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The Editor is volunteering to update an earlier version of the guide, A Guide to the Natural Communities of Eastern Massachusetts, which focuses primarily on the natural communities of southeastern Massachusetts. Once the updates are complete, SEMPBA will work with the Editor to schedule training workshops and field training opportunities.

In the meantime, conservationists are encouraged to use the current version of the guide to begin Pine Barrens assessments.


A Guide to the Natural Communities of Massachusetts

Intro and Terrestrial Guide Pages 1 - 56
Terrestrial Guide Pages Intro - 54 PDF
Terrestrial Guide Pages 55 - 56 PDF

Palustrine Guide Pages 57 - 104
Palustrine Guide 57 - 102
Palustrine Guide 103 - 104

Estuarine Guide Pages 105 - 142
Estuarine Guide 105-121 PDF
Estuarine Guide 122 PDF
Estuarine Guide 123-140 PDF
Estuarine.141-142 PDF

Terrestrial communities in southeastern Massachusetts identified by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP)

Priority Types of Natural Communities

Black Oak-Scarlet Oak Forest/Woodland

Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) Southeastern Massachusetts Terrestrial Communities

The SEMPBA Field Guide to accompany the NHESP terrestrial communities designations is being updated by interns through the Massachusetts Maritime Academy

NHESP Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Community

SEMPBA Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Field Guide PDF under development

NHESP Coastal Forest Woodland


NHESP Cultural Grassland


NHESP Maritime Beach Strand


NHESP Maritime Dune


NHESP Maritime Erosional Cliff


NHESP Maritime Juniper Woodland/Shrubland


NHESP Maritime Oak-Holly Forest/Woodland


NHESP Maritime Pitch Pine on Dunes


NHESP Maritime Rock Cliff


NHESP Maritime Shrubland


NHESP Mixed Oak Forest


NHESP Oak Hickory Forest


NHESP Pitch Pine-Oak Forest Woodland


NHESP Sandplain Grassland


NHESP Sandplain Heathland


NHESP Scrub Oak Shrubland


NHESP Successional White Pine Forest


NHESP White Pine Oak Forest


SEMPBA's guide to identifying terrestrial communities in southeastern Massachusetts

The links below take you to pages that contain images, maps and information that will help you identify the terrestrial community you want to assess. 

Field Guide Draft

Black Oak-Scarlet Oak Forest/Woodland

Coastal Forest Woodland

Excerpts: The North Atlantic Coast Ecoregional Assessment 2006, The Nature Conservancy: North Atlantic Coast Team M. G. Anderson, K. Lombard, J. Lundgren, B. Allen, S. Antenen, D. Bechtel, A. Bowden, M. Carabetta, C. Ferree, M. Jordan, S. Khanna, D. Morse, A. Olivero, N. Sferra, M. Upmeyer.

Noerhern Reed-bellied CooterWhy the Northern Red-bellied Cooter is SEMPBA's symbol