Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

graphic: map of the State of Florida showing the Ecological Network, State Roads, and Priority Interfaces. High concentrations of interfaces are in the area north of Tampa and the Vero to Palm Beach area amongst others
High priority ecological zones in Florida.
panther using underpass at night
A Florida panther utilizes the underpass. (Florida DOT)

Florida Department of Transportation

Florida's GIS Technology Applications

Despite seven major hurricanes in Florida over the past two years, a record 79 million tourists visited the State. And even though more Americans are "staying put" this year, 800 people a day are moving into Florida.

Increased tourism and continued population growth demand more and larger roads—a solution that fragments habitats, impedes animal movement, and increases wildlife mortality. How do you balance the need to improve transportation with the need to link habitats and reduce roadkill?

To help Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) decisionmakers answer this question and to enable them to schedule future projects according to critical needs, researchers at the University of Florida developed a statewide, geographically referenced planning tool. The GIS computer model captures, manipulates, displays, and combines spatial information—for example, land use, species distribution, and existing roads and greenways.

At the beginning of the project, transportation planners and wildlife experts evaluated and ranked criteria for prioritizing road projects—criteria such as greenway linkages, chronic roadkill sites, and biodiversity hotspots. Each set of criteria corresponded to relevant spatial data. For example, chronic roadkill sites—road segments where roadkill was likely to occur—corresponded to known roadkill locations.

How do you use this kind of information to minimize the current and future impacts of Florida roads on wildlife species and habitats? You work with a wide variety of partners, maximizing limited resources and together making tough decisions about land acquisition and similar concerns. FDOT's partners on the GIS Initiative included the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Greenways and Trails Council, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other public and private organizations.

Good news: Thanks to Land Cover, Strategic Habitat Conservation Areas, and other landscape data on the GIS model, FDOT and its partners can now anticipate critical wildlife habitat needs on highway projects. More good news: The GIS Initiative has been used to prioritize more than 150 highway-ecological interface zones across the State-for example, State Road 29 in Collier County (Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge Region, and Big Cypress National Preserve), U.S. 1 in Monroe County (Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge), and Interstate 4 in Volusia County (Tiger Bay State Forest and the Tomoka River). Still more good news: The project has enabled FDOT and its partners to propose an ecological network based on highway projects currently identified in the statewide transportation plan that could protect both species and habitats for years to come.

For more information contact Vicki Sharpe at Vicki.sharpe@dot.state.fl.us.

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