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Green space stewardship restores and protects

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published December 23, 2015

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ROCHESTER HILLS — A new long-term management plan aims to control invasive species, restore natural habitats and improve public access in city-owned green space.  

In 2005, voters approved a 0.3-mill, 10-year tax to acquire and preserve green space. In 2013, voters approved revising permissible use of the millage revenues to provide stewardship — including the protection, care and maintenance of green space and to improve pedestrian accessibility.

Currently, the city has purchased and protected over 1,000 green-space acres. 

“Many of the key pieces have been acquired,” Steve Niswander, of Niswander Environmental, a city consultant, said during a Dec. 14 presentation to the Rochester Hills City Council. “The next step is, how are those parcels managed to make sure that they remain in the high-quality state that they are, or restored to a high-quality state so they can be that way in perpetuity?” 

Non-native invasive species like phragmites, buckthorn and honeysuckle threaten the natural features of many of the sites while disrupting public access and use, the management plan states. 

Many of the properties have pockets of rare and valuable habitats that contain a significant amount of the city’s biodiversity and natural heritage. More than 20 projects have been identified and prioritized to address invasive species control, streambank restoration, wetland enhancement and prairie restoration.

“The management plan before us is, in essence, the action plan,” Councilman Dale Hetrick said, asking Niswander for clarification.  

“This is a living document,”  Niswander said. “We have developed management plans for each of those open-space properties. That is the plan that will guide the city into the future. We will be evaluating the responses of those natural areas.”

A nine-member Rochester Hills Green Space Advisory Board currently develops strategies and recommendations for acquisition and stewardship. A major goal of the GSAB is to increase stewardship opportunities for local residents and volunteer groups. Anticipated volunteer activities include invasive species control, habitat monitoring, seeding and planting, fundraising, trail maintenance, and trash cleanup.

Niswander said the city’s approved millage funding delivers a unique opportunity for the city to set the funds aside to manage the open-space areas.

“We represent many communities and state organizations,” he said. “The problem is typically that funding ebbs and flows. When the funding isn’t available for management, what oftentimes happens is the properties are set back, either by invasive species or erosion. 

“A one- or two-year period without funding or without management may set a site back four or five years,” he said. “By moving forward in the manner you are — funding is guaranteed to be there every year. These resources will truly be protected, and your investment in the open spaces will be protected in perpetuity.” 

A green-space properties map is available at www.rochesterhills.org.

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