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Environmental Review Toolkit
Step 1: Build and strengthen collaborative partnerships and vision
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The goals of Step 1 are:

  1. Break down organizational barriers.
  2. Take an inventory of each stakeholder’s goals, priorities, processes, and major areas of concern within a specified planning region.
  3. Document significant issues that may affect agency goals and mitigation needs.
  4. Create a shared regional planning vision.
  5. Obtain formal agreements on roles, responsibilities, processes, and timelines that establish or reinforce partnerships.
  6. Document criteria and opportunities for using programmatic consultation approaches to better address transportation and conservation planning needs.
  7. Identify initial funding options.

With a basic vision in mind and the commitment of the transportation planning organization to make the initial investment of resources toward the IEF process, the transportation planning agency (for example, state DOT or MPO), as the responsible party for transportation planning and implementation, begins outreach to other planning organizations and resource agencies in the planning area.

Define the Scale of the Planning Area. Defining the area under the jurisdiction of the planning organization is straightforward. The geographic extent of the planning area and scale of the planning effort will determine the resolution of the mapping data that is relevant. In other words, a broader brush planning effort would not necessarily require high resolution data, although the resolution of the data that is manageable is limited only by the computing capacity of the mapping system.

Subdividing the Planning Area. At this step, the transportation planning agency may wish to subdivide their planning area to facilitate the analysis of ecological issues. Dividing areas by hydrologic units (hydrologic unit codes or watersheds) is a convenient method, as mapping hydrologic unit codes at different levels (8- digit, 10-digit, 12-digit) is readily available nationwide from the Natural Resource Conservation Service ( These units are referenced in some regulations (such as in Clean Water Act regulations), and may also correspond to the distribution of particular habitat types, for example, rare species ranges. In any case, it is a convenient starting point.

Stakeholders/Partners. Based on the planning area, develop the list of partners. The core stakeholders are the same agencies consulted in project-level ecological coordination. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and their state counterparts are the root list. These agencies can cover the majority of ecological issues at the federal and state level, including both the resources protected by law and those that require sensitive approaches.

The list of additional stakeholders depends on the scale of the IEF process. Candidates may include organizations with a local or sub-regional interest, such as county agencies, MPOs, cities, park districts, and non-governmental organizations.

Initiating and Continuing Communication. Initiating the IEF process may not be a simple affair, given workload priorities and availability of the partners. Having consolidated meetings is clearly the best choice, and may be possible for the kickoff and some interim meetings; however, the larger the group, the less likely all members will be in attendance. At the initial meeting, the method for future communication to keep all parties engaged should be a priority agenda item. Depending in the timing, the meeting could be preceded with a questionnaire to identify available mapping data/format, current software, and conservation/restoration priorities as a beginning point of discussion. The communication will likely be a balance of written communications and face-to-face meetings to provide partners the greatest flexibility to stay involved, but also occasional concurrence points to punctuate the process.

Models of project public involvement can be applied to this activity. It is important at this early stage to establish a process for documenting agreements. Changing personnel between the planning and implementation phases of a program poses a real risk of losing track of decisions made during the planning phases.

Team Responsibilities. Depending on the scope of the planning effort, the stakeholders could be subdivided by role. For example, the planning group for a long-term partnership could be divided into:

  • The Partners Team provides leadership and direction to the other teams to ensure that their common and accepted objectives are met. Partners represent the agencies and organizations investing in the plan. [Upper level management engagement is needed not only to provide resources, but to enforce the agreements made among the stakeholders in each agency’s policies.]
  • The Science Team ensures that the REF spatial database represents best available scientific knowledge, makes recommendations about the natural resources that should be included in the REF and populates the REF with information about the resources’ conservation requirements and response to stressors that would appear in the transportation and land use scenarios. Because all knowledge cannot be integrated into the REF, the team should also be engaged to review and validate assessments and inform decisions. The team itself is composed of subject matter experts for the resources and may be drawn from State and Federal agencies, universities, and NGOs among others.
  • The Technical Team manages and conducts the technical work of the IEF process. A single project team member may have more than one of the necessary skill sets; for example, a staff member managing the project may also facilitate the partnership.

State DOTs were given the authority to enter funding agreements with other Federal and State agencies. However the team is constructed, the best outcome is that all partners share in a practical benefit, the mapping product, and standard procedures that they might apply across their organizations.

Funding. State DOTs may be able to use transportation funds for both their own participation and the participation of other agencies, as this process is carried out as part of transportation planning and has the potential to expedite environmental reviews. As projects are implemented and on-the-ground mitigation activities take place, funding may be shared by the transportation agency through cost-sharing responsibilities such as a funding match or in-kind contributions (such as land donation, management services, materials, equipment or facilities). Third party in-kind contributions may be accepted as the match for Federal funds, in accordance with the provisions of 49 CFR 18.24.

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Step 1 -
Build and strengthen collaborative partnerships and vision
Step 2 -
Characterize resource status and integrate natural environment plans
Step 3 -
Create a regional ecosystem framework (conservation strategy + transportation plan)
Step 4 -
Assess effects on conservation objectives
Step 5 -
Establish and prioritize ecological actions
Step 6 -
Develop crediting strategy
Step 7 -
Develop programmatic consultation, biological opinion or permits
Step 8 -
Implement agreements, adaptive management, and delivery projects
Step 9 -
Update regional ecosystem framework and plan
How Eco-Logical aligns with other environmental approaches