For centuries, Dakota County’s natural resources have sustained native populations and European settlers, and these resources are still important to the County’s 410,000 residents, many of whom farm and work there. The County’s original plant communities are now scarce, and most of the remaining natural areas and surface waters have been damaged by adjacent development and agriculture, invasive species, and suppression of surface fires—a natural disturbance that sustains many native ecosystems.
The vast loss of natural areas and reduced quality of those that remain not only has environmental consequences, but also detracts from recreation, quality of life, and a sense of place. Recognizing the importance of its natural resources, Dakota County commissioned a comprehensive, strategic, system-wide approach to planning for the efficient management of the County’s natural areas—and its park vegetation, waters, and wildlife. The County also wished to involve natural resource managers from other landowning agencies in the planning process, and by so doing began to form partnerships for managing land and water across property boundaries.
In 2015, AES began working on the County’s Natural Resource Management System Plan (NRMSP), encompassing all the County’s parks, regional greenways, and conservation easements. The plan laid out a 20-year vision—with strategies, schedules, and costs—to guide natural resources management decisions for the several thousand acres of county parks, easements, and greenways five-year implementation plan providing the County with input for its Capital Improvement Program and annual operations budgets.
In close collaboration with County staff, including several design meetings and document review sessions, AES compiled and reviewed of existing data, confirmed and refined the information through field observations, and integrated the findings with county goals. As success also required that the public and partners understood and agreed with the goals and specifics of the plan, the AES team and the County employed a rigorous engagement process. These included public open houses, online polls, intercept surveys, several technical advisory committee meetings, and meeting with the county planning commission and board. The County’s Visitor Services Strategic Operations Plan, being developed concurrently, also figured in the identification of locations and activities, which could be integrated with natural area restoration, and management plans. Templates were created for completing future site-specific Natural Resource Management Plans in parks, greenways, and easements.
The NRMSP is being used to guide park master plans and set budget goals—requiring that every park have a natural resource management plan completed before the park master plan is done.
- Natural Area Inventory & Plan
- Ecological Assessment
- Public Engagement