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Watershed Assessment
Toolbox
Resource Planning Model

The following information was derived from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Quick Guide to Using Natural Resource Information document. Planning, when done well, is among the most powerful tools available to communities. A solid plan, based on good natural resource information, guides rational land use decisions, and allows the community to consider innovative tools for resource protection with fewer chances for legal challenges to their planning authority. The plan also sends a clear message as to what the community values and wishes to preserve, and if well crafted, results in few surprises to developers, local officials, or residents.

In the case of the Yellow River, the "community" equals all of the residents and resources contained within, and closely adjacent to, the watershed.

Individuals and land owners who are interested in improving the stewardship of their resources can join together and follow a process like the one presented here. Or they are encouraged to work with the Northeast Iowa RC&D's Watershed Coordinator to develop a strategy and comprehensive action plan that will meet their needs in a fashion that is in harmony with their neighbors, other resources, and the Yellow River "community" at large. Basic information, including a description of the Yellow River watershed, a "Resource Planning Model" (the Minnesota model presented here is one good example), and an "Interactive Mapping Tool," plus other features can be found on this web site and are presented as information to get you started. Additional help in the form of internet links where technical assistance, guidance, contacts and funding can be obtained from the organizations listed under the "Helpful Links" section of this web site and through the various local contacts who are presented in Section 4.

Natural resource-based planning is a process that puts the community's natural resource base at the forefront. By identifying natural resources at the beginning of the planning process, your community can determine where development is most appropriate. This way, communities can avoid the unintended consequences of the typical planning process, such as open space becoming the 'leftover' pieces, water resources being degraded, and compromising community character.

The key steps in Natural Resource-based Planning are:

  1. Identify natural resource issues of importance to your community, such as water quality and wildlife habitat.
  2. Conduct a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI).
  3. Develop a Natural Resource Assessment (NRA) to identify priority natural resources for conservation and areas suitable for development.
  4. Develop a comprehensive plan, which outlines your community's priorities for conservation and growth.
  5. Implement the plan. Be sure your community commits adequate funding to implement the strategies identified in the plan.
  6. Monitor your community's progress.

The Yellow River Watershed Initiative has provided the materials necessary to complete the first 3 steps of natural resource-based planning. Once you have determined what natural resource issues are of importance, the next step is to conduct a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI).

 
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Natural Resource Inventory

A Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) is the information collected to identify the location and character of natural resources. Ideally, a natural resource inventory is conducted as part of a natural resource-based, comprehensive planning process. And ideally, that planning process happens in advance of significant development in a community. The inventory is the foundation for the plan, and the plan is the basis for growth management. In communities without a strong natural resource-based plan, natural areas often become 'the residual of development'. Including natural resources as a key component of the planning process ensures that the integrity of the community's green infrastructure will be placed among its highest priorities - the remaining lands are designated for development.

Timing of the natural resource inventory and plan is important. During periods of intense development, communities are very busy reviewing development plans and have little time to consider planning for natural resources. In addition, lack of good natural resource information prevents communities from effectively reviewing development proposals with an eye toward natural resource protection.

You need several pieces of core information to conduct a NRI:

  • Base map (political boundaries and roads)
  • Aerial photos
  • Topography
  • Soils
  • Water features (lakes, wetlands, and watercourses)
  • Floodplains
  • Natural areas/open space
  • Other community specific information

Keep in mind the NRI is an important step in the Natural Resource Based Planning process and will be used as the basis for many of your community's decisions.

The key steps in conducting an NRI are:

    1. Identify and gather existing information
    2. Determine NRI Approach (Hand-drawn or GIS-based)
    3. Gather new information and record it
    4. Review mapping with community
    5. Refine mapping if necessary
 
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Natural Resource Assessment

The Natural Resource Assessment (NRA) is the third step in Natural Resource-based Planning process. In this step, information collected in the inventory is used to rank and prioritize areas for open space protection or investigation of other local natural resource issues.

 
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Interactive Mapping Tool

The Iowa DNR has developed a web-based mapping tool that serves as a portal for geographic as well as textual information. It enables users to view and combine different layers of information that may be useful for resource inventory and analysis. Layers range from soil and water features to topography and aerial photography. This tool can and will be updated with new kinds of mapped information. One of the most powerful features of the mapping tool is its ability to display information at different scales, enabling citizens and decision-makers to weigh alternatives for local action within a much broader context of land uses and resource concerns. It also puts the same capabilities into the hands of individual landowners.


Click here to use the IA DNR Interactive Mapping Tool

 
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Important Resources and Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs)

Every farm and every community has its own set of important resources, which might include a spring or a well, a forest, prairie, stream, or an historically significant building. Such areas or sites are judged by local residents to merit special recognition due to their importance or sensitivity. For example, sinkholes are considered critically important due to groundwater sensitivity in portions of the Yellow River Watershed, and have been included as a map layer.

The Conservation Opportunity Area (COA) map layer represents portions of the landscape that are over 75 meters inside the edges of land cover patches (grassland, forest or grass/forest mosaic) and over 75 meters away from roads, where development is usually most intense.

The COAs are, therefore, potentially good locations - from a strategic planning perspective - where private land stewards can look for important resources and conservation opportunities in areas that are relatively far away from roads and their related disturbances.

For example, a COA might be currently supporting healthy populations of native species that could be vulnerable to further habitat fragmentation. The COA could provide a reservoir for future biological diversity, or an ecological service like runoff filtration.

Incorporating COAs - and other important resource layers - into a watershed-scale resource assessment and conservation strategy can help reduce sediment, nutrient and contaminant loading to neighboring drainage ways and streams, thus improving overall water quality.

Additional biological or hydrological information layers may be useful for identifying appropriate sites for habitat linkages and water quality buffers. Data layers currently under development and not yet available can be generated or added as needed.

In the final analysis, decisions on whether or not to implement conservation practices within or around any of these COAs will depend on each area's ecological condition, its potential for ecological enhancement, and the willingness of the individual landowner to enter into a voluntary agreement to participate.

By promoting natural resource sustainability, private land stewards can help secure the right of future generations to continue inhabiting a watershed with an unusually rich natural and cultural resource heritage - this is the ultimate goal of the Yellow River Initiative.

From Land Stewardship Project Website

 
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