Open Space Planning
1. Why Plan for Open Space | 2. Importance of Being Pro-Active | 3. What is an Open Space Plan | 4. Open Space Planning Process | 5. Components of an Open Space Plan | 6. Using BwH in Open Space Plan Inventories | 7. Designating Local Focus Areas | 8. Commonly Raised Public Concerns | 9. Example Plans
Using BwH in Open Space Plan Inventories
Beginning with Habitat (BwH) maps provide a good starting point for developing an open space vision or "conservation blueprint" for your community. Other sections of the BwH Toolbox provide examples of tools that can be used to implement the "conservation blueprint" you develop to address your town's conservation goals and objectives. Open space planning with BwH will not only highlight key natural resource features to consider, but will also help to highlight where future development could take place in a fashion that avoids or minimizes further habitat fragmentation and potentially minimizes regulatory issues and infrastructure investment.
Using the three core BwH maps to get started:
Map 1 Water Resources & Riparian Habitats: As a town-wide depiction of major wetlands, streams, and water bodies on the landscape, Map 1 clearly shows the interconnected relationship of surface water resources in a given community. It also provides information that can be used in planning a simple approach to connecting habitats across the landscape: protect water resources and their riparian buffers. Incorporating Map 1 features as the starting point of your local "conservation blueprint" by recommending enhanced buffer protections or additional stream and wetland protections will benefit not only local wildlife and fisheries, but will provide corridors for potential trail connections and help maintain water quality vital to the local shellfish industry or public drinking supplies. Features depicted on Map 1 typically have some level of existing natural resource protections already in place. Whether these protections are in the form of state and federal wetland regulations or mandatory shoreland zoning, to an extent, each of these features and their buffers as depicted, carry an existing minimum level of protection that can be augmented through local action (examples included in the Wetlands and Shoreland Zoning Tools section).
Water tends to be the focus of many traditional outdoor recreation activities in Maine, including fishing, boating, swimming, or simply having access to scenic vistas. As a result, Map 1 can also provide your open space planning committee with a starting point from which to assess public access needs. Protecting and adequately buffering water resources is as much an economic development issue as it is an ecological issue. Maybe the additional protections your committee proposes as part of your open space plan will maintain a native brook trout stream that brings tourists to town year after year. Where might additional shoreland buffer provisions help prevent excess phosphorus from entering a popular lake destination? What stream systems drain to local mud flats that employ commercial shellfish harvesters?
Map 2 High Value Plant and Animal Habitats: If you can think of a "conservation blueprint" as a cookie, then the features shown on this map are the chocolate chips. These features are the key elements of local diversity, and although some receive a degree of state regulatory protection individually, effectively protecting clusters of these key features in an intact, unfragmented landscape can only be accomplished through local efforts. None of these elements can persist in isolation, but require habitat connections and intact surrounding landscape conditions in order to support each aspect of their life histories, whether dispersing seed or young, finding a mate or moving seasonally for dietary or hibernation requirements. Highlighting and prioritizing these high value elements in a local open space plan can also help with the success of conservation acquisition grant proposals (see Financing Habitat Protection). Many funding sources scrutinize applications to make sure the funds are used to address clearly defined local priorities. Highlighting and prioritizing Map 2 in a local open space plan can also help build public awareness of a community's "special places" which may in turn help build public support for future conservation actions and ordinance revisions.
BwH Map 3 Undeveloped Habitat Blocks: Large areas that remain undeveloped in your community provide some of the best opportunity to achieve the correct future balance of growth and conservation for your town's future and to keeping common species common. The key is figuring out the correct balance and applying the right tools in the right place. Certainly the larger, more connected, the block of habitat is, the more species will benefit. Given fiscal and political realities and town growth needs, however, it typically can't all be preserved. A good place to start is working with landowners. Are there some key parcels and landowners who would appreciate the chance to work with your committee? Consider limited development and conservation subdivision approaches that would create incentives for concentrating development along road frontage and previously disturbed areas while avoiding the unfragmented interior and remaining habitat connections. Prioritize those portions of undeveloped blocks that harbor high value plant and animal habitats and those portions closest to overland connections and corridors that can also be protected through limited development or acquisition approaches. Many examples of tools used by Maine communities are included in the Beginning with Habitat Toolbox. These tools are designed not to stop growth, but are intended to help your town grow in a way that minimizes habitat impact.