We will protect significant natural features. The boundaries of Oklahoma City encompass a variety of well-preserved natural features, such as grasslands, riparian areas, upland forests, and sensitive aquifers, which contribute to the landscape in a number of ways. They contribute to our economic strength by increasing the attractiveness of the city, which improves competitiveness in the global marketplace. They provide ecosystem services, such as filtering water, cleaning the air, and providing food and habitat for birds that eat insect pests, and bees that pollinate crops. Moreover, they contribute to quality of life for residents and visitors, providing the benefits of recreation, beauty, and distinctive character.

Protection of significant natural resources is based on a map of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), which has already been completed. The resulting regional inventory provides information for developers and property owners to use as they design developments to ensure they avoid impairing significant features. Using mapped ESAs as a baseline, we will elaborate a policy to protect ESAs that specifies methods to mitigate damage to natural features (see Chapter 2 for overview).

We will develop and protect a network of green spaces that preserves environmental assets and connects habitats for wildlife. An effective conservation plan will ensure not only that environmentally significant areas are protected, but also that they are connected via wildlife corridors, remain minimally fragmented by roads and other infrastructure, and represent the natural ecosystem diversity of the area.

Connectivity: Connections between protected areas maintain the viability of wildlife populations, enhance biodiversity by accommodating more species, and provide corridors that allow wildlife to move safely between habitats. Current development patterns often break connections between green spaces, particularly where they cross boundaries of ownership or development projects. We will identify opportunities to develop a connected network of ESAs and other green spaces using existing and potential trail corridors, greenways, open spaces, wetlands, forests, waterways, and natural areas. The resulting guidance for development will ensure that connections between green spaces are maintained.

Minimal fragmentation: Current practices allow large natural areas to be fragmented into multiple smaller areas by infrastructure, such as roads, fences, pipelines, and transmission lines. These features, as well as noise, disrupt the dispersal of plants and animals. Guidelines will be adopted to minimize fragmentation by directing infrastructure to locations with least impact, minimizing the amount of habitat disruption around the infrastructure, and utilizing best practices to restore damaged habitat.
Representativeness and heterogeneity: A strategy to protect ESAs will employ principles of representativeness and heterogeneity. Representativeness ensures that green spaces exemplify the range of natural diversity in our area, including diversity of species, ecosystems, and geology. Heterogeneity favors green spaces that include a mix of ecosystems closely grouped together, as these spaces are shown to harbor greater biodiversity than more homogenous green spaces.

We will develop a package of incentives and requirements to ensure developments near natural features minimize adverse impacts. The ESA inventory and green space network will be protected through a combination of requirements and incentives. Requirements will minimize disturbance of targeted areas with highest ecological value. In addition, because property owners and developers should not be penalized for responsible development of land near ESAs and corridors, we will establish tools and incentives for properties to be developed in ways that minimally impact natural areas and incorporate green features into their designs. For example, one such technique is conservation design, which preserves permanent open space while allowing an equal or greater development yield to that permitted by the site’s underlying zoning. Permanent open space is often protected through conservation easements, which may be donated to a public or nonprofit body in exchange for tax advantages.