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Developing a Regional Ecosystem Framework for Terrestrial and Aquatic Resources along the I-70 Corridor: An Eco-Logical Field Test

Screenshot of the GIS-based Wildlife Watch map used to display and report wildlife sightings
Website for the public to report wildlife sightings on I-70. (Courtesy of I-70 Wildlife Watch)

Colorado Department of Transportation

Total cost: $361,093
FHWA share: $152,500
Period of performance: 40 months
Dates: May 22, 2008 – September 22, 2011
Status: Complete
AOTR: Dennis Durbin/Michael Lamprecht
Grant-project website: https://www.codot.gov/projects/i-70-old-mountaincorridor

Project Goals
The goal of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Eco-Logical grant project was to help CDOT identify mitigation projects to improve wildlife connectivity for the Interstate 70 (I-70) corridor. CDOT created a Regional Ecosystem Framework (REF)1 for the corridor that incorporates wildlife-habitat and crossing data into a Geographic Information System (GIS) database. CDOT staff brought together a stakeholder group consisting of Federal and State resource agencies, local governments, and non-governmental organizations to develop a data tool and implementation framework that could inform planning and mitigation decisions along the corridor.

Project Activities and Accomplishments
CDOT staff conducted a GIS analysis to identify 17 priority connectivity zones for wildlife and aquatic crossings along the I-70 corridor. The stakeholder group worked with CDOT to complete a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that covers projects in the corridor and incorporates data on habitat connectivity opportunities. In conjunction with the PEIS, the group developed an implementation matrix for the REF. In January 2011, project partners committed to use the matrix to implement future projects proposed along the corridor by amending a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) associated with CDOT's Stream Wetland Ecological Enhancement Program. CDOT included the matrix in a second MOU for A Landscape Level Inventory of Valued Ecosystem Components, a CDOT-led interagency program that promotes environmental streamlining in the I-70 corridor.

Future Steps
In 2012, CDOT tested the REF matrix on a small project in the corridor, which generated positive feedback from stakeholders and resulted in minor updates to the matrix communication protocol. While CDOT would like to apply the matrix for all projects along the corridor, it has been using an abridged process for many projects because CDOT receives piecemeal funding for planning and constructing individual projects. However, due to the level of trust among stakeholders, all partners are satisfied with this informal process. CDOT hopes that continued project implementation will generate results that cause others in the State to adopt the Eco-Logical approach. CDOT will continue to collect data to evaluate performance measures in the matrix linked to stakeholder engagement and enhanced species connectivity.

Insights on Eco-Logical
CDOT has involved a large and diverse group of stakeholders in its Eco-Logical project, and it credits the Eco-Logical approach with the strong level of trust between all project partners. CDOT and its partners believe that using the matrix will lead to the best projects for all parties. Additionally, this trust has made it easier for CDOT to connect with partners earlier in the planning process for projects outside of the I-70 corridor. CDOT notes that the Eco-Logical process relies strongly on communication, and the Eco-Logical “brand” primarily focuses on environmental outcomes. Both of these factors may discourage transportation engineers and other stakeholders without resource expertise from supporting the approach, despite the benefits it may bring to these stakeholders.


1 The REF is an element of integrated planning that consists of an overlay of maps of agencies' individual plans, accompanied by descriptions of conservation goals in the defined region. The REF can provide agencies with a joint understanding of the locations and impacts of proposed infrastructure.

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