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Environmentally Sensitive Development for Minnesota Communities
1996 Minnesota Conference on Sustainable Development

Natural Resources in Minnesota

Minnesota's economic prosperity has been due, in large part, to its diversity of natural resources, including rich grassland prairies, coniferous and mixed hardwood forests, abundant wetlands, streams, and lakes, and varied wildlife. Reliance on these important natural resources for agriculture, tree production, and urban growth has left current and future generations with a diminished inheritance. Based on information available from the Mn Department of Natural Resources' Minnesota County Biological Survey and the MN Pollution Control Agency's Water Quality Division:

Land Use Trends in Rural - Urban Areas

Continued growth is expected to take place in 38 of Minnesota's 87 counties over the next 30 years. These growth projections suggest that more undeveloped land will be needed throughout the state for homes, businesses and industries, roads, and utilities. Recent studies of the growth corridor surrounding Minneapolis-St. Paul indicate that:

Environmentally Sensitive Development

Ways to avoid or minimize the impacts of development on the natural environment do exist. Developing land with greater environmental sensitivity depends on early site assessment of natural resources, plans and construction techniques that avoid or minimally disturb plant and animal communities, and land management approaches that protect, maintain, or improve the "health" of natural resources.

This kind of development approach is economically sound: recent newspaper articles and scientific studies have shown that retaining wooded areas and some types of wetlands on property in developing areas actually increases property values. But, in addition, environmentally sensitive development brings much more that economic benefits in the form of higher property values. Many of today's home buyers perceive the incorporation of naturally vegetated areas into property design as a benefit that improves their quality of life. Testifying to the valuable role natural spaces play in people's lives, Minnesotans' have opted in the last year alone to protect over 7000 acres of open space by a variety of protection options (see references).

It takes a different way of thinking to develop an area with greater sensitivity to the natural environment, in other words, to work with the natural features of a site. This kind of approach requires that one:

Take a broad perspective and look for the connections among land and water habitats.

Look at the kinds and locations of land and water habitats on the site in relation to each other and in relation to habitats off site. The transition area between land and water bodies, called the riparian zone, is especially important to maintain or restore. The riparian zone reduces the amount of sediment that enters the water and the plants in this zone take up excess nutrients and pollutants and help clean the water.

Contact the appropriate agencies or private consultants to have an assessment done of the water bodies and upland areas on site.

Explore development options to minimize impacts on wetlands, wooded areas, rivers, lakes, and other natural features, both on and off site.

Retain, restore, and increase the diversity of native species on the site.

Identify areas that have healthy, intact native plant communities with a natural resources assessment. These areas require more of a protection management strategy than habitats that require a more active management approach to be improved. Knowing how an area needs to be managed is helpful to determine the benefits and costs of making an area biologically richer.

Reduce amounts of impervious surface area in sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, and roads to provide more space to add vegetation.

Plant suitable species of varying heights to increase structural diversity on the site and to increase food and shelter available to wildlife.

Eliminate exotics wherever present, such as purple loosestrife or buckthorn. They out-compete native species and reduce the variety of species commonly found in an area.

Adopt a longer time frame which supports planning and design aspects that take time to be completed.

Allow the many benefits realized by present and future generations to outweigh the up front costs of environmentally sensitive development.

Seek options to promote diversity and complexity with an environmentally sensitive development approach. The longer time frame permits the measurement of successes such as increases in biological diversity or a healthier environment.

Use best management practices during and after construction to minimize environmental impacts.

Emphasize the importance of everyday actions to further improve environmental quality once an area is developed in an environmentally sensitive manner. Some important yard care practices that help to reduce individual acts of pollution include:

A variety of land stewardship programs and land protection options exist to help the landowner manage or preserve land. See list of contacts below.

Selected Recommendations for Environmentally Sensitive Planning and Building

Consider clumped, higher density housing with areas set aside for open space such as parks or natural lands.

Increase alternative forms of transportation such as walking paths and bike trails, except in areas considered important for their biological diversity.

Place roadways outside wetlands, stands of trees, and grassland areas to the greatest extent possible to avoid dividing these natural areas into smaller patches, called fragmentation.

Avoid construction in areas of erodible soils or on slopes greater than 10%. Retain or create strips of vegetation, called filter strips, around all water bodies. The width of the filter strip varies, but 50 feet is considered a minimum width.

Protect wetlands from direct stormwater input through the construction of a two-celled basin system with a dedicated stormwater cell that receives water before the wetland does.

Restore degraded natural habitats such as wetlands and wooded areas through active management and consider creating green corridors, or linear vegetated connections, among these different natural areas.

Replant sites with native and other species best suited to the conditions of the location.

Selected Agency Contacts for More Information

Minnesota Extension Service For information: Contact your local county extension educator or the University of Minnesota Extension Distribution Center, 20 Coffey Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108 (Phone 1-612-625-8173) for publication information.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program has biological survey maps for several Minnesota counties which can indicate whether there are any rare or natural features situated on or near a property. For information: Minnesota DNR, Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155 (Phone 1-651-296-8319 or -8324; call toll free 1-800-766-6000)

Minnesota Land Trust works with landowners to preserve open space through a variety of voluntary options. For information: Minnesota Land Trust, 70 North 22nd Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55411-2237 (Phone 1-612-522-3743; Fax 1-612-521-2376)

Land Stewardship Project helps individuals and communities work toward a stewardship ethic by providing a clearinghouse for information, training workshops, public forums, and other educational and organization functions. For information: Land Stewardship Project, 2200 4th Street, White Bear Lake, MN 55110 (Phone 1-651-653-0618; Fax 1-651-653-0589)

The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) brings together members of the agricultural community in a cooperative effort to promote sustainable agriculture. For information: MISA, 411 Borlaug Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108 (Phone 1-612-625-8235; Fax 1-612-625-1268)

Selected References for More Information

"Land Protection Options: A Handbook for Minnesota Land Owners" Contact The Nature Conservancy Field Office, Minneapolis, MN (Phone 1-612-331-0750)

"Managing Landscapes in the Big Woods Ecosystem" Contact: The Big Woods Project, 328 Central Avenue, Faribault,MN 55021 (Phone 1-507-332-0525) or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (Phone 1-800-766-6000)

"Help Save Minnesota's Vanishing Tallgrass Prairie" Contact: Peter Buesseler, DNR Section of Wildlife, 1221 East Fir Avenue, Fergus Falls, MN 56537 (Phone 1-218-739-7576)

"Aquascaping: A Guide to Shoreline Landscaping" Contact: Hennepin Conservation District, 10801 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 240, Minnetonka, MN 55305. Cost is $4.44 per copy, which includes tax and shipping.

"Protecting Minnesota Waters: Shoreland Best Management Practices" Contact: Minnesota Extension Service, 109 Washburn Hall, 2305 East 5th Street, Duluth, MN 55812-2420 (Phone 1-218-726-7512)

"Nonpoint Source Pollution" Contact: Water Environment Federation, 601 Wythe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-1994 (Phone 1-703-684-2400)

"Best Management Practices for Water Quality: Field Manual for Loggers, Landowners, and Land Managers" Contact: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, 101 South Webster Street, Madison, WI 53707-7921 (Phone 1-608-267-7494)

"Visual Quality Best Management Practices for Forest Management in Minnesota" Contact: Minnesota DNR Forestry Department - Resource Assessment Office, Grand Rapids, MN (Phone 1-218-327-4449)

This fact sheet was produced for the 1996 Sustainable Development Conference: Building and Investing in Sustainable Communities, cosponsored by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, and the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Support for this fact sheet was provided by grants from the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry, Urban Forestry Center for the Midwest States and from the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Permission to use line drawings was given by the Minnesota DNR.
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Last modified on March 06, 2013