Natural Environment: resources, recreation, management, protection, climate
Introduction – what is the Natural Environment, what is included?
The “natural environment” refers to everything living and nonliving occurring naturally in Madison. From the Town’s beaches to its wildlife, forests and wetlands, the natural environment in Madison includes a large list of natural areas and features throughout the Town.
Madison’s natural environment is highly valued by the community. Its protection, preservation and conservation is critical to the overall sustainability and livability of Madison. The quality of our air, water, and soil directly impacts the health and well-being of our residents. Clean air is essential for the healthy lungs of all creatures, while clean water sources are crucial for hydration, agriculture, and sustaining aquatic ecosystems. Madison's natural environment also plays a pivotal role in mitigating the impacts of climate change. As we face the challenges posed by rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and shifting ecological patterns, the preservation of our forests, wetlands, and other natural areas becomes paramount. These ecosystems act as carbon sinks, absorbing greenhouse gases and helping to regulate local climate conditions. They also provide natural buffers against flooding, erosion, and other climate-related hazards. In addition, Madison’s natural environment is heavily intertwined with its built environment, as it is associated with many economic, social, and health impacts. The natural environment provides key resources, recreational opportunities, ecosystem services, and is a major source of community pride for Madison.
As Madison continues to grow and develop, it is critical that the Town has information and a plan for safeguarding its natural environment and using it in a way that is sustainable and responsible. Concerns like climate change, sea level rise, and air, water, and noise pollution threaten the natural environment, requiring proactive planning by the Town.
Through collaborative efforts between the community, local organizations, and government entities, we can ensure that Madison's natural environment continues to thrive, supporting a healthy and resilient community for generations to come. By valuing and conserving our natural resources, we not only enhance the quality of life for our residents but also fulfill our responsibility as stewards of this land.
Draft Selected Policies– How do the Core Themes Guide the Town’s Approach to the Natural Environment?
POLICY A: Focus on Understanding and Sharing Knowledge of Natural Environment
The health of our natural environment is inextricably linked to the health of our community and its population. While the natural environment, including open spaces, tidal marshes, and connected forest tracts, have inherent value, they will only continue to thrive through active attention. Ensuring that both community leaders and the general public understand this value is a critical baseline step. In order to support this policy, the following actions are recommended:
- Action A.1: Conduct a Natural Resources Inventory
- Action A.2: Update GIS mapping of all key natural resources and create public map portal
- Action A.3: Encourage environmental education and stewardship curriculum at Madison schools
- Action A.4: Expand public engagement efforts such as Mad for Trees, Mad for Bees, No-Mow May, and Single Use Plastic Bag ban
POLICY B: Connect People to the Environment
A baseline understanding of the value of the natural environment of Madison is an appropriate first step, but it must be followed by efforts to place people into relationship to nature. The Town must align its priorities to connect its residents and visitors to an active and continual experience of the natural world. In order to support this policy, the following actions are recommended:
- Action B.1: Update Beach and Park Facility Master Plan
- Action B.2: Work with CTDEEP and neighboring Towns on Shoreline Greenway connections
- Action B.3: Make municipally-owned farmland and other unused arable lands available for active agriculture
- Action B.4: Develop sidewalk and trail connectivity plan and identify gaps between key resources and destinations
- Action B.5: Increase public amenities for both passive and active recreation facilities
- Action B.6: Include consideration of active recreation opportunities, including youth sports, as part of land acquisition process
POLICY C: Focus on Preparedness and Resiliency from Effects of Climate Change
The last few decades of increasing storm frequency and severity, extreme weather, and repeated damage in coastal areas have resolved debates about reality of climate change. Madison should focus on understanding the potential parameters of this threat, and modify municipal investments accordingly. Pre-event preparedness and mitigation as well as recovery planning will ensure that the community will be able to continue to grow and thrive despite changes. To support this policy, the following actions are recommended:
- Action C.1: Increase standards on development within flood-prone areas
- Action C.2: Actively implement recommendations in the SCRCOG Regional Multi-jurisdiction Hazard Mitigation Plan
- Action C.3: Focus on property acquisition and limiting vulnerable development along the shoreline and in coastal wetland areas
- Action C.4: Increase use of green infrastructure and low-impact development techniques to manage stormwater
- Action C.5: Empower broader action by the Coastal Resilience Commission to update and implement recommendations of 2016 Coastal Resiliency Plan
- Action C.6: Review major municipal investments in infrastructure and physical facilities for vulnerability
- Action C.7: Maintain municipal emergency management preparedness for major flood, drought, heat emergency, winter storm and other increasing frequency events
- Action C.8: Work with property owners in increased vulnerability areas on preparedness, evacuation planning, and structural improvements
POLICY D: Consistently Update Policies and Undertake Tasks for Sustainability
Municipal budget constraints play a significant role in decisions about polices and investments. The Town must be disciplined in its decision-making to equally weigh both social equity issues and the ability of the environment to adapt to a changing world and continue to provide critical resources to the community. Long-term thinking that balances the needs of the present day with an eye on the future is essential. To support this policy, the following actions are recommended:
- Action D.1: Work with Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency to ensure that wetland integrity is protected through regulation and enforcement
- Action D.2: Increase participation in Sustainable CT, seeking Bronze Certification
- Action D.3: Provide additional technical and financial resources to addressing invasive species
- Action D.4: Increase active management of trees within the public way and within town properties, including development of forest management plans for Town properties
- Action D.5: Develop and provide funds for management plans for Town open space properties
POLICY E: Increase Active Stewardship of Natural Resources
Far too often, the glamour and excitement of a high-profile acquisition or protection of a key piece of open space receives all of the attention. While a community’s desire to protect an important property is worthy of praise, the element of maintaining and caring for that resource in the long term can be neglected. The continued value of these assets, providing ecological and community opportunity over decades, requires attention to stewardship. Devoting sufficient resources to care and maintenance should be an essential part of the Town’s approach. To support this policy, the following actions are recommended:
- Action E.1: Devote a portion of Open Space Acquisition funds for active stewardship of existing holdings
- Action E.2: Consider sale of “surplus,” small, or non-contiguous easements or parcels held by the Town, with proceeds going into Open Space Fund
- Action E.3: Work closely with Land Trust on stewardship plans for existing holdings
- Action E.4: Undertake an education campaign on the Natural Resources of Madison, focusing on resource stewardship
POLICY F: Develop Stronger Strategic Approach to Property Acquisition
With numerous conservation partners, including the Town, Land Trusts, the State of Connecticut, homeowners associations, and nonprofits, across decades, acquisition and protection of property can seem somewhat unfocused. Priorities can come and go with different administrations, and pet projects come and go without sufficient coordination. A more focused approach, including all key stakeholders, should assist the Town in identifying and prioritizing future acquisitions that will maximize benefit to the natural environment and the community and be efficient and effective within the Town’s limited financial resources. To support this policy, the following actions are recommended:
- Action F.1: Develop criteria for identifying target properties for resource conservation and future community needs (develop criteria for identifying target properties)
- Action F.2: Develop a formal Open Space Plan
- Action F.3: Maintain funds in reserve for opportunistic acquisition
- Action F.4: Build on investment and resources at Rockland Preserve
- Action F.5: Seek to connect properties and open spaces through trails and corridors
- Action F.6: Pursue acquisition of Right of First Refusal on target properties
- Action F.7: Focus on fee-in-lieu and annual budget allocation for Open Space Fund
- Action F.8: Develop partnerships with Madison Land Conservation Trust, Regional Water Authority, CTDEEP, etc.