Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to
Developing Infrastructure Projects
VI. What Success Looks Like
Economic, environmental, and social needs and objectives can be harmonized, while infrastructure project approvals are streamlined in compliance with applicable laws. By working to ensure that acknowledged priorities are maximized, tax dollars are effectively spent, public safety is improved, and infrastructure development is streamlined. Some examples of work accomplishing multiple objectives include Alabama's Protection of the Gopher Tortoise, Colorado's Programmatic Ecosystem Approach, and Arizona's Missing Linkages effort, among others. (Photo courtesy of David Sell, FHWA)
A mitigation and conservation banking industry is emerging and providing opportunities for infrastructure development and ecosystem conservation to move forward in parallel. Economic, environmental, and social needs and objectives can be harmonized, while infrastructure project approvals are streamlined in compliance with applicable laws. With the process presented in this document, agencies and their partners can further interagency collaboration, enrich public involvement, and consider ecosystem-based mitigation possibilities. By working to ensure that acknowledged priorities are maximized, tax dollars are effectively spent, public safety is improved, and infrastructure development is streamlined-success looks eco-logical.
Successful Examples with Potential REF Components
Examples of efforts to accomplish multiple objectives follow; such efforts could occur as components within a REF. These cases have successfully gone beyond traditional, project-specific approaches. As integrated planning efforts proceed and REF approaches are developed, exemplary endeavors are certain to emerge in the future.
Alabama's Protection of the Gopher Tortoise
In January 2003, the Alabama DOT (ALDOT), the FHWA Alabama Division, and USFWS finalized a plan to protect habitat for the threatened gopher tortoise in southwest Alabama. Gopher tortoise habitat is impacted by a number of proposed highway projects and encroaching development. Rather than working on a project-by-project basis, ALDOT acquired more than 600 acres for a gopher tortoise conservation bank. Conservation banking will allow ALDOT to protect the large and viable habitat needed to support a thriving gopher tortoise population. USFWS has reviewed and approved the site, and ALDOT, FHWA, and USFWS have begun to implement a plan to enhance the area as a long leaf pine habitat. In addition, the three agencies have developed maintenance procedures and criteria for capturing, testing, releasing, and monitoring the species.
Alaska Habitat Connectivity Project
The following is excerpted from A Scoping Analysis to Assess the Effects of Roads in Alaska on Habitat Quality and Connectivity. The final report is available at http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.383.5375&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Habitat fragmentation caused by highway development is a serious concern throughout the U.S., and the world. Since the mid-1990s, State and Federal transportation officials and land and wildlife management agencies have been looking for ways to address this problem, which occurs when a highway alters habitat and impedes movement in the landscape. The purpose of the Alaska Habitat Connectivity Project was to build a toolbox of information that will enable the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to assess the effects of existing and proposed roads on habitat quality and connectivity.
To build this toolbox, members of the project team assembled (1) a list of individuals interested in the effects of roads on habitat quality and connectivity in Alaska, (2) literature related to this issue and pertinent to Alaska, and (3) GIS data sets and methods useful to transportation planners for project development. Additionally, two workshops were conducted to (1) inform research by taking the collective pulse of the community with regard to this issue, (2) identify research gaps, and (3) gather other related information.
Arizona's Missing Linkages
The Nation's fastest-growing State is developing its open space at a rapid rate. Arizona's exploding human population has necessitated additional roads, wider highways, urban development, and other related structures and activities that create barriers and prevent the movement of wildlife. To reduce these impacts, roads and highways throughout the State are being designed or modified to include overpasses and underpasses to allow for safe wildlife passage. Identifying the effective location of overpasses and underpasses statewide requires a blueprint of where the remaining wildlife habitats and corridors are located.
Such a blueprint was initiated during Arizona's first "Missing Linkages" conference. The workshop resulted from a cooperative effort coordinated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona DOT, USFWS, USDA FS, FHWA, BLM and key persons from the Wildlands Project, and Northern Arizona University. The conference demonstrated the urgency and need to cooperatively address wildlife connectivity on a statewide level. The workshop featured prominent speakers who emphasized the importance of the subject and included examples of wildlife overpasses, underpasses, and other highway-crossing structures that exist in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere in the United States.
The statewide linkage map, although needing further refinement and analysis, was one of the conference's notable successes. This map, when fully developed, will greatly assist Arizona's future highway planning, construction, and maintenance activities in tandem with the State's wildlife management goals. Working groups will identify corridors connecting wildlife habitat throughout the State.
California's Multiple Project Conservation for Species of Concern
FHWA, California DOT (Caltrans), and several local transportation agencies are planning five interchange improvements on Interstate 10. These improvements will impact sand dune habitat that houses two listed species of concern: the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard and milk vetch. Rather than develop discrete conservation measures for each project, the participating agencies have developed a mitigation strategy for the five interchange projects that will be carried out as each project goes through the environmental process. As a result, the USFWS will issue a Programmatic Biological Opinion for the five interchange projects, which will expedite project delivery. Participating agencies are preparing a draft cooperative agreement and will begin acquiring land from willing sellers as soon as each project completes its environmental document. Approximately 1,800 acres will be conserved for the five projects.
Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has developed a geographic information system-based sensitive resource inventory along nearly 6,000 miles of State highway. The ambitious project is part of ODOT's Salmon Resources and Sensitive Area Mapping Project - an effort to provide accurate resource-protection maps to highway maintenance crews so mowing, pesticide application, and other activities don't harm listed salmon species and other sensitive environmental resources. The maps were key to a formal agreement between ODOT and the NOAA Fisheries Service under which ODOT is allowed to perform routine road maintenance without having to consult with NOAA Fisheries.
Colorado's Programmatic Ecosystem Approach
In November 2002, Colorado DOT (CDOT), FHWA, and USFWS began implementing a programmatic ecosystem approach to streamline Section 7 consultation for transportation projects that may impact the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. The jumping mouse was listed as a threatened species in 1998 due to habitat degradation caused by development and impacts from transportation projects. Since 2001, CDOT has built nine check dams to restore a degraded riparian ecosystem in conjunction with several transportation projects near East Plum Creek. This area is part of the Front Range of the Southern Rockies, where the jumping mouse is known to exist within Colorado. The check dams raised the water table enough to maintain the riparian vegetation necessary for quality jumping mouse habitat. In addition, CDOT and FHWA restored nearly one mile of East Plum Creek as part of a bridge construction project. Today, this restored habitat is part of a Preble's meadow jumping mouse habitat conservation bank. In return for its mitigation work, CDOT received credits for future projects to occur in a defined service area.
Indiana's Habitat Conservation Plan for the Indiana Bat
In April 2002, the Indiana DOT, the FHWA Indiana Division, and four local government agencies finalized a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for the endangered Indiana bat as part of the improvement of transportation facilities around Indianapolis International Airport. These highway improvements will occur in an area of known Indiana bat habitat that is predicted to experience nearly $1.5 billion in economic development during the next 10 years. Under the HCP, approximately 3,600 acres will be protected, including 373 acres of existing bat habitat. In addition, approximately 346 acres of hardwood seedlings will be planted for new habitat, and an outreach program and 15-year monitoring program will be developed.
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