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
Designating Local Focus Areas Using BwH
What are Beginning with Habitat Focus Areas?
Beginning with Habitat (BwH) Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance are naturally occurring areas of statewide ecological significance that contain unusually rich concentrations of at-risk species and habitats. These areas, identified by state and federal biologists from the Maine Natural Areas Program (MNAP), Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), support rare plants, animals, and natural communities, high quality common natural communities; significant wildlife habitats; and their intersections with large blocks of undeveloped habitat. BwH Focus Area boundaries are drawn based on the species and natural communities that occur within them and the supporting landscape conditions that contribute to the long-term viability of the species, habitats, and community types.
It is hoped that the mapping of a BwH Focus Area will help to build regional awareness and draw attention to the exceptional natural landscape conditions throughout the state that result in a convergence of multiple resource occurrences of statewide significance. The resulting appreciation of these truly special places can then provide momentum to municipalities, land trusts, and regional initiatives focused on strategic approaches to conservation.
Are Other Areas Insignificant? Designating Local and Regional Focus Areas
To date, collaborative efforts by state, federal, and conservation organization biologists have resulted in the designation of 97 Focus Areas of Statewide Ecological Significance. Areas that rise to the level of statewide ecological significance may not occur within the boundaries of every town. Strategic conservation planning, however, is critical at all levels and the BwH Focus Area model can be used to identify areas of local or regional significance as well. Although the frame of reference for BwH efforts has been a comprehensive statewide analysis, the criteria used in designating focus areas can be easily adapted to the local or regional perspective. BwH maps including Map 1 Water Resources and Riparian Areas, Map 2 High Value Plant and Animal Habitats and Map 3 Undeveloped Habitat Blocks offer good starting points to identify unique locations rich in significant habitat feature convergence that can then be designated as local focus areas that can serve as focal points in your town's "conservation blueprint". Focus areas of local significance can be useful tools in building public support for local conservation efforts by providing an easy to visualize, location specific objective. The focus area concept also offers an approach to explicitly define where conservation should occur. By clearly defining these priorities, communities are in a much better position to ultimately realize their conservation goals.
Figure 1: This diagram has been adapted from the BwH criteria for proposing candidate focus areas of statewide ecological significance. The criteria suggested here can be modified to reflect local priorities. Click to enlarge.
Refining Your Approach with the Other Maps
Use of the three core BwH maps (Map 1 Water Resources and Riparian Areas, Map 2 High Value Plant and Animal Habitats, and Map 3 Undeveloped Habitat Blocks) in the initial phases of open space planning should be complimented by referencing other BwH maps. Each provides information key to further refining the designation of local focus areas and the overall development of a local "conservation blueprint".
Map 3 also depicts conserved lands. Given that the data represented on this map comes from BwH's state and federal agency partners, it likely does not represent all protected lands in town, but should capture those acquired using state and federal funds. Building off of past conservation efforts by protecting additional areas adjacent to protected lands may be the most efficient approach in providing protection of large blocks of habitat in your town. Viewing the distribution of protected lands in town offers your committee a chance to evaluate how past efforts have addressed priorities identified in local focus areas, and can help to identify where key parcels could be protected to link past efforts whether for habitat purposes or for future recreational trail development. Are there neighborhoods that lack access to open space?
Local knowledge is critical in adding other protected lands to this map such as those held by private land trusts or those owned by your town that may not be included in the state's database. Once you have a complete depiction of existing protected lands, it becomes apparent where additional conservation efforts could better protect locally defined focus areas, or help to develop or protect trail connections that could double as habitat connections. In terms of overall habitat value, creating large blocks of conserved land by building off past conservation successes often produces the greatest benefit for the dollar. Additionally, many land acquisition funding sources favor projects that abut already conserved properties.
Map 7 Wetlands Characterization: All wetlands are not created equally, but each wetland no matter how small or whether forested or non-forested, provides ecological functions and values. Many of these naturally provided functions and values are vital for a community's long-term well-being and are expensive to artificially replace once lost or degraded. Common wetland functions and values, besides providing wildlife habitat, include groundwater recharge, floodflow alteration, erosion and sedimentation retention, nutrient attenuation, and stormwater detention. Map 7 attempts to illustrate the likely functions that major wetlands in town provide. A computer model processing general characteristics of each wetland scored the likely functions and values provided. The map should not be considered conclusive, but is a good starting point for identifying key wetland complexes in your community that could better inform the designation of local focus areas.
Map 8 USFWS Habitats for Priority Trust Species: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program has conducted a GIS analysis of high value habitat for its 91 priority trust species of regionally declining migratory birds, sea run fish, and endangered plant, mammal, herptile, and invertebrate species. This model is based on satellite imagery and assigned habitat scores per 30 x 30 meter patch of ground. The model is predictive in nature and can be helpful in preliminary habitat analysis especially in portions of town where no other data is available.
Figure 2: The Town of Readfield conducted a fairly broad brush approach to identifying "Multi-Value Priority Areas" that serve as local focus areas for planning purposes. Click to enlarge the image.
Beginning with Habitat staff are available to work with your town to assist with the development of local open space planning process and with the development of a "conservation blueprint". Contact us for assistance.