Tools & Techniques>Woodlands

The following information was adapted from "Watershed Resource Papers" developed for the Dowagiac River Watershed Project by Langworthy, Strader, LeBlanc, & Associates, Inc.

Unlike certain critical environmental areas, woodlands have been relatively ignored, despite their benefits to the public. As buffers and moderators of flooding, erosion, and noise and air pollution, woodlands are important to the region's quality of life. Much of the woodlands within the township lie either in small parcels, usually left from agricultural clearing, or in larger areas where farms have not been established and where intensive development has not yet occurred.


Some of the values of woodlands include:

- Providing a varied and rich environment for plants and animals.
- Forest layers, including canopy, branches, trunks, shrubs, and plants on the forest floor provide breeding, feeding, and refuge areas for many species of insects, birds, and mammals.
Protecting watersheds and soils.
- Forest vegetation moderates the effects of winds and storms, stabilizes and enriches the soil, and slows runoff, allowing the forest floor to filter groundwater.
- Serving as buffers to the sights, sounds, and odors of civilization. Forests mute noise from freeways and factories, and absorb air pollutants.
- Providing visual relief along roadways.
- Aesthetically pleasing roadways with natural vegetation tend to be more popular than those with little vegetation or highway clutter.

The question should not be whether or not to develop woodlands, but rather how development will occur. Hillside protection ordinances and erosion and sedimentation regulations play a part in protecting woodland resources. However, there are few provisions specifically directed at maintaining the health of forests or significant stands of trees.

Trees within the public domain are managed, to some degree, such as trees growing along streets. Mature roadside trees are sometimes considered hazardous, but always seen as attractive and valuable. To the extent possible, road improvements should respect and maintain these important landmarks, and their contribution to community identity.

Woodlands existing on private land deserve greater concern. Some of these are large enough to support commercial forestry, while others are small stands threatened by encroaching agricultural, commercial, or residential development. Many stands of trees are the result of not clearing land for agricultural use, where pockets of poor soils made farming impractical.

Without tree cutting regulations, a community risks losing its forest and tree resources. Damage to other resources resulting from the unregulated development of woodlands may require the use of tax dollars. Designed to prevent these losses and expenses, woodland regulations can identify the specific benefits woodlands provide to the community. Implementing regulations assures that woodland development preserve the health of the forest and tree/woodland resources.

Tree preservation ordinances are sometimes difficult to enforce, if drawn too strictly. A general tree preservation regulation would practically require a site plan review for individual lots; something which is usually avoided. There are reasonable regulations which can be drafted which do not necessarily address trees on existing, individual lots, but rather examine the building site as a whole and attempt to restrict buildings to those areas most suited for development, thereby preserving natural features. Tree regulations should be part of an overall program to preserve all natural features on a site.

If the regulations are designed to be specific enough, site plans may be able to receive administrative approval by a building official or zoning administrator. Individual property owners would be required to provide additional information as to the resources available on their property, such as tree clusters, wetlands, etc. Hillside protection ordinances and erosion and sedimentation regulations can also assist in protecting woodland resources.

Site plan review standards are another means of preserving existing woodlands. Site plan review standards are used by a planning commission in reviewing all site plans. This can be an effective means of preservation, but is not as specific as a tree ordinance. For instance, a tree ordinance can specify the replacement of trees that are removed.
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