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Environmental Review Toolkit
 

Integration of North Carolina's Conservation and Transportation Planning

Color-coded map of the study area, generated by the Conservation Planning Tool
Sample open-space and conservation-assessment map from the project's Conservation Planning Tool. (Courtesy of NCDENR)

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Total cost: $274,257
FHWA share: $136,689
Period of performance: 25 months
Dates: April 3, 2008 – April 30, 2010
Status: Complete
AOTR: Dennis Durbin/Michael Lamprecht
Grant-project website: http://www.onencnaturally.org/web/guest/home

Project Goals
The goal of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) Eco-Logical grant project was to produce data for a strategic conservation planning tool for North Carolina that included development of wildlife-habitat and vegetation data. NCDENR intended to apply this project to improving the integration of conservation data into statewide transportation planning in coordination with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). In addition, Metropolitan and Rural Planning Organizations (MPO/RPOs) and councils of governments in North Carolina could use the data to inform their local and regional long-range planning.

Project Accomplishments
NCDENR's Eco-Logical grant project provided data on upland and non-riparian wetland habitats that enhance the State Wildlife Action Plan. The project also digitized cultural resource features to demonstrate their role within the State's ecosystems. NCDENR integrated the data into a comprehensive statewide conservation-planning tool, the NC Conservation Planning Tool (CPT), available online to the public. The data also became a main feature of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's Green Growth Toolbox, which offers technical assistance, training workshops, and GIS data to local governments to support activities that encourage “green” development. NCDENR has worked with NCDOT to host joint workshops that focus on the use of NCDENR's Eco-Logical grant project data to support transportation planning, permitting, and project delivery. NCDENR staff have also presented the CPT to MPO/RPO staff, who responded positively to the availability of such data in a centralized location. NCDENR reported consistent support for the tools throughout recent leadership changes at the department level.

Future Steps
NCDENR continues to work with NCDOT to integrate the CPT, Green Growth Toolbox, and its Eco-Logical data, into statewide, local, and regional long-range transportation planning. NCDENR is helping NCDOT review its comprehensive transportation planning process to consider environmental data earlier and more frequently; this process will provide guidance and recommended best practices for MPOs and RPOs statewide as they continue to rely more on environmental data to evaluate projects. NCDENR also regularly works with its partners to update and obtain new CPT data every six months. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust Fund covers a full-time NCDENR staff to work on data updates and project outreach.

Insights on Eco-Logical
Through comprehensive outreach efforts, including workshops and presentations, NCDENR has demonstrated how agencies can cooperate, collaborate, and change their practices to better integrate environmental data into the transportation planning process. Through data-sharing and transparency, NCDENR has helped stakeholders better understand the implications of using environmental data in transportation planning. Frequent interaction with partner agencies to update the CPT data has helped to maintain NCDENR's Eco-Logical grant project as an effective resource for the entire State.

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