Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

map of project area (eastern half of Colorado)
Black-tailed prairie dog standing over mound
Black-tailed prairie dog standing over a mound. (Colorado Division of Wildlife)
group of vibrant purple, mutli-petaled flowers
Round-leaf four-o'clock (Susan Spackman Panjabi)
landscape view of native grasses and wildflowers
View of native grasses and wildflowers. (CDOT)

Colorado Department of Transportation

Shortgrass Prairie Initiative

Colorado's Shortgrass Prairie Initiative will help save one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the nation - an ecosystem supporting more than 100 threatened, endangered, or declining plant and animal species.

Shortgrass prairie makes up approximately one third of Colorado, and only about 40 percent of this prairie remains. Much of what's left is degraded because of agriculture, highways, and water projects.

In April 2001, concerned scientists from a number of organizations took action to find a solution to the problem. The Colorado DOT (CDOT), FHWA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and The Nature Conservancy signed a partnership agreement to work with landowners and communities to preserve thousands of acres of shortgrass prairie in eastern Colorado. The initiative will also improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the environmental measures associated with CDOT's routine maintenance activities, and it will upgrade bridge replacement and other activities on existing highways in Colorado's shortgrass prairie over the next 20 years.

The initiative will protect both listed and non-listed species and will mitigate minor as well as major transportation impacts. It calls for predictions of transportation's potential impacts to prairie species over the next 20 years - predictions that will enable early, proactive avoidance, minimization, and mitigation efforts.

According to the initiative's process, there are 29 "at risk" plant and animal species on the State's shortgrass prairie - for example, Pueblo goldenweed, golden blazing star, round-leaf four-o'clock, Arkansas Valley evening primrose, the western box turtle, the cylindrical papershell (a mollusk), and the lark bunting (Colorado's State bird).

The Shortgrass Prairie Initiative is based on scientific surveys which identified the most promising habitat for preserving targeted species. Private landowners interested in participating can sell either an easement or the land itself. Members of the agricultural community are invited to provide input on the management of parcels enrolled in the program.

Wildlife ranging from burrowing owls to ferruginous hawks to black-tailed prairie dogs stand to benefit from the initiative's "ecosystem approach," or its focus on protecting large, contiguous tracts of habitat in healthy landscapes rather than small pieces of land along a degraded roadside. Achieving these goals is made easier by a streamlined consultation process.

For more information on this unique and forward-thinking initiative, contact Alison Michael at Alison_Michael@fws.gov.

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