Tools & Techniques>Wildlife Habitat

Wildlife Habitat
Click here to view full size picture The following information was adapted from "Watershed Resource Papers" developed for the Dowagiac River Watershed Project by Langworthy, Strader, LeBlanc, & Associates, Inc.

A wildlife habitat is an area that offers feeding, roosting, breeding, nesting, and refuge areas for a variety of bird and mammal species native to the southwestern Michigan region. Michigan's wildlife is one of its most precious resources. Surveys consistently show that residents value wildlife as part of their quality of life. In addition, wildlife is valued throughout Michigan for the contribution it makes to tourism, recreation, hunting, and fishing. As a result, there is an increasing appreciation of the role that wildlife contributes to quality of life.

Similarly, some homebuilders and developers are also coming to realize that wildlife protection can make good business sense. Housing developments that include natural greenbelts, wildlife corridors, stream corridors, wetlands, and open space into their plans are in response to buyers who are willing to pay for those amenities.

As with other environmental effects, it is important to remember that wildlife does not respect jurisdictional boundaries. As a result, it is important to coordinate activities with other local governments on the basis of biological or geographical boundaries rather than on purely political ones. In rural areas, there are significant opportunities for wildlife management,
simply because of already existing, abundant wildlife habitat. This makes planning for wildlife habitat protection possible, by identifying areas of high wildlife value and encouraging development elsewhere. Even with the development of scattered rural areas, large open spaces still may be found through the Dowagiac River Watershed. This means that there is ample opportunity for movement of wildlife among habitat locations. It will require strong coordination of local governments and private landowners to ensure that wildlife considerations are included in the review of development plans.

In contrast, habitat protection in urban areas is considerably more difficult since much of the landscape has already been subjected to development, limiting opportunities for effective wildlife management. Consequently, any remaining undeveloped areas become much more important.

Actions that can be taken to address habitats within the community can include:

- a habitat inventory;
an active public education program and with some method(s) of ensuring property owner participation;
- intergovernmental coordination; and
- public/private partnerships with major landowners.
Wildlife Corridors
Implementing Habitat Protection

Wildlife Corridors

A wildlife corridor is a continuous natural protected pathway along which native wildlife species can move in relative security between high quality natural wildlife habitats. The land through which wildlife must pass when transiting between these habitats may, at times, consist of platted lots in private ownership and public roads and rights-of-way. Corridors work best when sparsely developed. The goal of establishing wildlife corridors is to maintain as nearly a contiguous greenbelt of native vegetation as possible, averaging 200 feet wide between various habitats.

Some interruptions in the corridors are inevitable because of existing roadways interposed between the habitats. Within this limitation, the objective is to locate corridor connectors to minimize the number of road crossings and maximize the greenspace available for protected wildlife transit. Wherever possible, the corridor should follow natural drainage corridors since this land offers more habitat value, is important for natural stormwater drainage, and is generally more difficult to develop.

Wildlife corridors can also be developed in coordination with other construction projects. For example, a utility corridor could be planned to provide a more natural system, rather than a swath of land devoid of natural features. Stormwater, flood management, and drainage control projects can utilize natural vegetation instead of man-made materials.

Where it exists, native vegetation should be left undisturbed. In areas with exotic vegetation, undesirable plants may be removed and native trees, shrubs, grasses, etc. (as appropriate), planted and maintained. Notice should also be made of fencing which may cut off or impede access through the corridor.

Landowners of properties in or near the corridors who wish to develop wildlife habitat on their properties should be provided with instructional materials and, if available, plants and volunteer assistance. Protection of proposed corridor lands should be enacted through:

- cooperative agreements with the various local governments and state agencies overseeing public lands;
- conservation easements with private landowners; and
- acquisition of property that cannot be otherwise protected.

Implementing Habitat Protection

Overlay zones may be the most effective method of protecting wildlife habitat and natural resource features for larger areas that include several underlying zoning districts. An overlay zone effectively eliminates the need to revise the regulations for each zoning district. Instead, it superimposes additional regulations specifically targeted to protect important physical characteristics of the land. For wildlife habitat protection, overlay districts may permit local governments to treat habitats specifically, without affecting the uses permitted in the underlying zoning districts.

Overlay zones can be particularly effective when they include provisions regulating:

- protect trees and other vegetative cover;
- enforce setbacks from sensitive habitat areas, such as wetlands and streams;
- require open space preservation (sometimes in exchange for greater densities of land use); and
- protect identified mating, nesting, and other critical habitat areas.

Other methods include conservation easements, purchase of development rights, and other similar techniques.
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