Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Georgia Department of Transportation

Building Partnerships to Balance Transportation Planning with Ecosystem Integrity

An open forest hillside of thin trees with dense green plants and white flowers growing on the shaded forest floor
Conservation area forest habitat (Georgia DOT)

Integrating transportation planning with ecosystem preservation is a balancing act, and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and FHWA's Georgia Division are successfully walking the tightrope.

In recent years the two agencies have become major contributors to purchasing and protecting greenspace and natural habitats in the State. To get there, GDOT and the Georgia Division worked with land trust organizations, State environmental agencies, Federal agencies, and private landowners to set up a higher standard for meeting future transportation needs while preserving rare habitats-a standard based on increased communication, consistently shared technical expertise, and local "knowledge-of-place." Through this approach GDOT is identifying and purchasing high-quality stream areas and wetland sites which have unique habitats for State or federally-protected plants and animals.

One of these high-quality sites is the Flint River Ravines Tract--a GDOT stream mitigation bank nestled in the rolling hills and ridges where Georgia's Piedmont makes its sharp descent into the Coastal Plain. The property is a unique mosaic of hardwoods--habitat for uncommon plant and animal species like the federally-endangered fringed campion, a small flowering plant, and the federally-threatened purple bankclimber (a mussel species).

The 1,300-acre site was in danger of being subdivided into a riverfront residential development of 5-acre "ranchettes." The Conservation Fund, acting as an intermediary between GDOT and a large timber company, signed a real estate purchase option on the site, allowing GDOT the additional time it needed to conduct biological studies and schedule funding.

Biologists from another GDOT partner-the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) -mapped the rare habitats on the site using sophisticated Global Positioning System units owned by GDOT. The level of participation and USFWS's significant time investment at this site may not have been possible without a cooperative funding agreement between GDOT, FHWA and USFWS.

The Flint River Ravines Tract lies adjacent to Big Lazer Creek State Wildlife Management Area. The two sites will be jointly managed, creating hunting and recreational opportunities for Georgians while at the same time protecting rare habitats.

This form of cooperation is also being carried out at GDOT's Black Creek Mitigation Bank along Georgia Highway 96 and Stuckey Mitigation Bank near US 129.

The 700-acre Black Creek site has a variety of rare habitats: dry sandhills for State-protected gopher tortoises and sandhill golden asters . . . slope forests for State-protected Harper wild ginger . . . and bogs for Georgia' s largest population of State-protected sweet pitcher plants. The bank will become a State Wildlife Management Area with recreational and hunting opportunities. The 1,200-acre Stuckey Mitigation Bank joins two areas that make up the Department of Natural Resources' Ocmulgee State Wildlife Management Area. Black bears use the large block of contiguous habitat. The site is also home to a federally-endangered plant called relict trillium and a State-protected plant called Ocmulgee skullcap.

On projects like these, and others on GDOT's nearly 15,000 acres of mitigation banks, building partnerships is producing results. Increased participation of local, State, and Federal partners in the identification and purchase of public lands is fostering a culture of respect and trust between different interest groups and promoting a holistic approach to transportation enhancement activities in Georgia.

For more information, contact Susan Knudson at susan.knudson@dot.state.ga.us.

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