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Van Buren Township - Open Space Evaluation and Prioritization

Natural areas are important because they perform important functions such as improving water quality, acting as habitat for natural species and for providing scenic beauty, all of which are integral components for a community's long-term economic and environmental health. Most natural areas remaining in urban areas are surrounded by development and fragmented from other open natural spaces. The number one cause of extinction of native plants and animals is habitat loss due to fragmentation caused by human development. To preserve and maintain sustainable native animal and plant populations, existing natural areas need to be preserved. These remnant habitats are all that is left from the original native landscapes of our natural heritage.

An evaluation of open natural areas was performed  for Van Buren Township by Nativescape, LLC and the Institute for Geospatial Research and Education (IGRE), to identify privately owned, undeveloped parcels in the township that exhibited sufficient natural features to warrant their inclusion into the Township's developing Open Space Preservation Program. This evaluation scored individual parcels based upon their existing ecological potential for restoration. Using a geographic information database (GIS) developed for this purpose by IGRE, individual parcels were prioritized, evaluated, characterized and compared to established criteria.

Open spaces and natural areas need to be considered when making long-term land use planning decisions. This study allowed Van Buren Township to strategically integrate the remaining natural areas into future development planning. Open spaces, often referred to as greenways, are also necessary for human well-being and a richer "quality of life" for residents. A balance must be found between development and open space/natural resource conservation. Communities embarking on this development path will have the greatest opportunity to maintain high property values, and thus tax base, which are driven by market demand. By preserving open spaces and greenways and making them publicly accessible,  Van Buren Township offers its citizens what it takes to make a community a desirable place to live, play and work.

Portions of the criteria established for prioritizing parcels was adapted from a report prepared by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory titled "2002 Oakland County, Potential Conservation/Natural Areas Report." To paraphrase from that report, 'the highest scoring properties will have the highest potential to hold unique natural features, possess high quality natural areas, and be dominated by native vegetation. These areas may provide essential ecological functions like maintaining water quality and quantity, flood control, soil stabilization and improvement, travel corridors for wildlife, refueling areas for migratory birds, and resources for genetic diversity'. Van Buren Township and Nativescape also collaborated to design additional criterion used for the evaluation.

The goal of the evaluation was to quantify various site characteristics in order to rank the parcels for preservation priority. Thematic maps were composed from the criteria to visualize parcel rankings and the connectivity between parcels. 

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