- Assessing the existing condition
Before we can look to the future we must understand where we are and where we came from. This is the goal of the assessment. We will bring together data sets that can address questions such as, what is the current distribution of land use in my region, where is the development pressure coming from, where will there be more development pressure, how much of the land is permanently protected, what lands are critical in the protection of drinking water supply, what lands are critical in protecting water quality, where do we have recreational opportunities, where are the areas needing habitat protection, and where are our working landscapes?
- Set goals and objectives for green infrastructure functions
Now that we have assessed the landscape we need to identify what are critical functions that we want to allow the natural landscape to provide for our communities. In many cases the protection of water quality and quantity are the most cost effective functions. In some cases the protection or enhancement of wildlife may be a priority or maintaining our working landscapes. Using the assessment we can identify the types of lands that would provide multiple benefits and services. We must set realistic goals and outcomes that will reflect the future vision of community. It is important that goals are set using a stakeholder process. Working with a GIS to design future scenarios, with stakeholder input, is an effective tool in communicating and developing a shared vision and establishing realistic goals.
- Identify critical areas for protection, enhancement and restoration
We need to look at three categories of objects and identify lands that can be protected which are currently providing the maximum services. In other cases there are lands that might provide some services but are impaired due to current land use activities, and finally, there are those lands that might be important to providing additional services that must be restored. Most often the cost of protecting is the least expensive option, followed by enhancement and restoration. These must all be evaluated in this part of the process and goals set for each category. In addition to numerical quantities it is important to look at the spatial distribution of these goals. It might make more sense to work with land owners in the headwaters of drinking water supply watersheds to purchase development rights within riparian buffers rather than focusing on riparian buffers downstream below the drinking water supply. It may be more effective to purchase and restore wetlands that can assist in enhancing existing stormwater infrastructure. These wetlands might become part of a greenway project that acts as a buffer between a development and a river. In many cases we can qualitatively assess different options both for the environmental and economic benefits.
- Field assess the areas
It is important to remember that GIS data are representative models of the landscape and that the assessment should never replace “boots on the ground”. They also reflect a single point in time and in theory the minute the data set is completed it is already out of date. So it is important that some type of assessment must be done before finalizing the assessment. It is also important to collect information that we are not able to collect in the GIS. This includes such information as forest structure, land condition, species, and land management practices. In addition, information on the condition and feasibility of enhancement or restoration must be evaluated on the ground. The information that is collected will be used for prioritization the next step.
- Prioritize areas of protection
This step requires the development of a ranking system for the lands that were identified in the previous steps. The ranking is based upon the goals identified in the beginning of the process as well as other critical information such as land prices, land owner willingness to participate, community acceptability, etc. It might be in the interests of local governments to rank lands which allow public access higher than those that don’t, when spending public funds. What is critically important to this step is that the ranking be developed with full participation of stakeholders and that those stakeholders include key land owners.
- Develop an implementation plan
Implementation will include identification of mechanisms for protecting, enhancing and restoring green infrastructure to provide key ecosystem services. This includes funding and land acquisition, regulations and ordinances, and market based approaches. The implementation plan should identify costs for maintenance and if necessary the mechanisms for enforcement. It is important to include a time table and establish benchmarks for success, as well as a time line to evaluate and update the plan. Benchmarks and timelines must be realistic and reflect availability of funds. Make sure the roles of various players are identified in the plan including, government agencies, land trusts and land owners.
This supplemental document provides a demonstration of the planning process using the Etowah watershed as an example.
As part of the State Forest Assessment, Georgia Forestry Commission has developed a large database of geospatial information that can be used for any assessment. The analysis can be performed using a Geographic Information System (GIS), which will allow the user to incorporate additional local information if available.
A GIS is an integrated computer and human system that assembles, stores, manipulates and displays geographic information. It allows a user to bring together geographically referenced information to explore and visualize diverse information from many different sources. GFC has compiled numerous data layers from multiple federal and state agencies which comprise an environmental atlas that can be used to assess existing condition of the area of interest. These data are available for the entire State of Georgia and will allow communities across the state to complete regional and local assessments. By using the standardize data sets communities can compare and connect their green infrastructure assessments which will allow for a more comprehensive regional planning program.
This regional approach is important because many of the ecosystem services that we are looking to maintain function at scales larger than our current political boundaries. Local governments are looking at joint service delivery strategies when providing much government services, regional approaches can also work with ecosystem service delivery. This is especially true with providing abundant and clean water to our communities. Upstream and downstream users can benefit each other and lower costs for all if there is regional cooperation and planning in maintaining green infrastructure.
This document is meant to provide a brief overview of conducting a green infrastructure program. There are a large number of resources available to assist communities in the process of developing a green infrastructure plan. Below is a list of publications and websites that provide information to assist you in your planning process. This list and other valuable information will be updated on our website and provided to the Community and Sustainable Forestry Program at the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Provides an extensive collection of information on watershed protection, including a series of publications on urban forestry and watershed protection.
Information and case studies.
Maryland’s Green Infrastructure
A great example of statewide implementation of a green infrastructure program. They have integrated their forestry and wildlife programs and provide extensive outreach information to local governments.
Green Infrastructure Center
Information and resources for Virginia green infrastructure programs.