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Environmental Review Toolkit
Step 5: Establish and prioritize ecological actions
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The goals of Step 5 are:

  1. Create a regional conservation, restoration, recovery, and mitigation strategy, with quantitative and qualitative valuation of mitigation sites.
  2. Identify the preferred conservation and restoration actions needed to achieve the priority conservation goals.
  3. Develop strategies and actions that consider regulatory requirements and programmatic implementation opportunities.
  4. Identify crediting opportunities (see Step 6).
  5. Designate a lead agency or agencies for each strategy and method for achieving each strategy.

The resource agencies have already identified the habitats in most need of conservation and restoration in the planning area. This step evaluates these areas and others in the planning region to achieve the mitigation goals defined in Step 4.

This step is directly related to the creation of Programmatic Mitigation Plans as laid out in MAP-21 (23 U.S.C. 169). The statute provides that a state DOT or Metropolitan Planning Organization may develop one or more programmatic plans to address the potential environmental impacts of future transportation projects as a part of the statewide or metropolitan transportation planning process. The scope of a plan is determined by the DOT or MPO in consultation with the resource agencies who have jurisdiction over the resources. MAP-21 also requires that a draft of the plan be available to the public for review and comment and that the public’s comments be addressed in the final plan.

Creating a Mitigation Plan. This step involves the stakeholders building a mitigation plan to meet the needs of the transportation program at a regional level. These collaborative, holistic, regional-scale approaches allow transportation and resource agencies to eliminate redundant investments, share data, and identify potential mitigation sites more effectively. The process is expected to reduce the level of coordination required on a particular project, and the uncertainty at the initiation of any project, for the transportation agency and the resource agencies, as to the potential ecological impacts and likely level of effort needed to address those impacts. It also provides the opportunity for stakeholders to pool their financial resources to achieve the greatest benefit.

Operating principles are similar as those used for mitigation banking—that is, identifying sites with greatest conservation value, the most “credits” per dollar amount, and long-term sustainability.

Based on the resource mapping available, mitigation plan “scenarios” can be developed to meet the program needs and conservation priorities. The “mitigation opportunity inventory” ranks sites based on their ability to meet mitigation targets, along with: a) their anticipated contributions to cumulative effects; b) their presence in priority conservation/restoration areas; c) their ability to contribute to long-term ecological goals; d) the likelihood of viability in the regional context; e) cost; f) eventual management (ownership) by a resource agency to insure sustainability; and g) other criteria determined by the stakeholders. This step will require field effort to verify the conditions of the targeted sites and their expandability/improvement potential.

For impacts that do not appear practicable to mitigate in-kind, the transportation agency may wish to review with appropriate resource agency partners the feasibility of mitigating out-of-kind (for example, by helping secure a very high-priority conservation area supporting other resource objectives).

The stakeholders will jointly review the mitigation scenarios. Once adopted, the transportation agency can move to secure sites in advance as a “bank” or consolidated mitigation site for foreseeable projects.

This exercise is consistent with the in-lieu fee wetland mitigation programs in some states (for example in North Carolina and Florida). In these programs, rather than requiring site-by-site mitigation for CWA or state wetlands/waterways permits, the applicant instead pays a fee, correlated with the amount of impact, to the resource agency charged with performing mitigation at a state level. The resource agency has the duty to identify areas with the greatest mitigation/restoration need and sites with the greatest chance of success and ecological value.

Performing this step in concert with the resource agencies helps minimize the level of effort spent on a project-by-project basis identifying suitable mitigation sites, defining mitigation goals, and ensuring mitigation success, and could help to consolidate funds from various sources to undertake a restoration/mitigation project that meets the needs of the transportation agency as well as the goals of the resource agency. Performed at a statewide level, this effort could have the extended value of providing a guide to mitigation prioritization and siting for all public (including county and city transportation officials, who often follow the state DOT guidelines and policies, and other infrastructure) and private permittees.

Documentation. Document the process of avoidance and minimization, and quantifying impacts and mitigation requirements, including the quantities to be retained/restored in each area, and the agency and mechanisms for conducting the mitigation.

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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